According to the MS Society, over 130,000 people are living with MS in the UK. That’s a staggering one in every 500 people.
But despite its prevalence, MS is still widely misunderstood. Along with its debilitating physical conditions, it can also have shattering effects on your mental health.
That’s why during MS Awareness Week, various charities are taking the opportunity to raise awareness of Multiple Sclerosis. Well, we thought it was important to join them. Here are the best ways of managing day-to-day life with MS.
But first, what is Multiple Sclerosis?
It’s a condition which causes damage to the nerves in your brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system). ‘sclerosis’ means scarring and refers to the damage to the nerves caused by MS. ‘multiple’ refers to the fact that it can happen in more than one place.
What are the symptoms of MS?
Unfortunately, everyone has a slightly different experience with MS. However, the NHS has outlined the main symptoms as:
- Difficulty walking
- Impaired sight, eg. blurred vision
- Difficulty controlling the bladder
- Numbness or tingling in different parts of the body
- Muscle stiffness and spasms
- Problems with balance and coordination
- Difficulty thinking, learning and planning
Depending on the type of MS you have, your symptoms may come and go in phases or gradually get worse over time.
What types of MS are there?
There are three main types of MS:
- Relapsing – people have attacks of symptoms which then partially or completely fade away. 85% of MS sufferers have this type
- Secondary progressive – many people with relapsing MS go on to have this type. It means they have a build-up of the disability
- Primary progressive – instead of relapses, symptoms gradually worsen over time. This type accounts for about 10-15% of people living with MS
So, what are the best ways to manage life living with MS?
Maintain a balanced diet
Most people living with MS say that when they eat well, they feel better. So, what’s the best diet for MS sufferers? Simply put, a balanced one. Getting a good mix of everything allows your body to work to its full potential, so try to include:
- proteins – for growth and tissue repair
- carbohydrates and sugars – for energy
- fats – to absorb certain vitamins and for essential fatty acids
- fibre – for healthy digestion
- vitamins and minerals – for numerous processes in the body, including tissue repair, bone strength and the absorption of other nutrients
- fluids – to help carry those nutrients around the body and for various chemical processes happening in our cells.
Maintaining a healthy diet will help to give you the energy that’s needed to get through the day.
Conserve your energy
According to MS Focus Magazine, nearly 80% of the people living with MS experience fatigue. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to maximise your best time of day, e.g. the morning. This is the time to:
- Exercise – light aerobic exercise can increase your strength, balance and improve bowel and bladder control. What’s more, it can also give your mental health a boost. In light of recent quarantine measures, it is still possible to get out for a walk or jog once a day at the moment. However, there are also plenty of ways you can get a light workout at home if you’re choosing to stay in.
- Housework – these tasks may feel overwhelming when you’re fatigued, so try to take care of any chores whilst you have the energy. Once completed, you’ll get a sense of achievement and an important mental lift.
- Social activities – explain to whoever you’re socialising with that you have MS and this time of the day works best for you. It’s important to communicate with – and lean on – the support you have around you. Again, there are plenty of ways to socialise online; Houseparty, Google Hangouts and Zoom are just a few ways you can stay connected.
Lean on the support that’s available
Coming to terms with a diagnosis can be difficult – for you and your family. So it’s important to use the support that’s available. The UK has two MS charities that have lots of useful advice, resources and chat rooms:
What’s more, there’s also the shift.ms website, which is an online community for younger people affected by MS.
Above all else, remember that you’re not facing this alone. Your GP can offer further advice and point you towards local support.
Some symptoms of MS – particularly issues with motor control and balance – can make you feel a bit unsteady. And this can be a worry when you’re home alone. You can make adjustments around the house that can help, e.g. using a non-skid bath mat and adding extra handrails.
However, you and your family might feel reassured with a personal alarm service. These are specifically designed to help people with long term conditions live more independently at home. In case of an emergency, e.g. a fall, someone is available to help at the press of a button.
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