Finding out that your loved one has multiple sclerosis can be challenging to accept. Multiple sclerosis or MS is a long-standing autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune cells wrongly attack your body’s healthy cells.

Usually, MS affects the sheath covering your nerves in the brain and spinal cord. As these nerves are responsible for transmitting signals from the body parts to your brain and vice versa, damage to nerves may affect many functions.

So, social support is really essential for them. From daily chores to managing their symptoms, they may need the aid of a loved one.

This article will briefly educate about MS and how you can help a loved one suffering from it.

Multiple Sclerosis- Causes and Symptoms

You can help them by knowing a tad about the condition and the common presenting symptoms.

As discussed before, multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder where your immune cells wrongly attack your own body’s healthy cells, causing their destruction. 

In MS, the immune cells attack the cells sheath covering your nerves, protecting the nerve fibers from any injury. This sheath also helps to communicate signals efficiently and quickly.

In places where the sheath sustains damage or disappears, a scar appears, known as sclerosis. So, multiple sclerosis is multiple scars on the protective sheath of your nerves.

When multiple lesions develop, nerve fibers are damaged. All this alters the flow of electrical impulses from the brain to the target tissue. The affected part thus cannot carry out its normal functions.

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Causes

The exact reason for MS is unknown, but experts believe some factors may increase the risk of getting MS, such as:

  • Age between 20 to 40 years
  • Being a woman
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Habits such as smoking
  • Exposure to Epstein-Barr virus or human herpes virus
  • Vitamin B12 and/or vitamin D deficiency
  • Teenage obesity

Symptoms and Signs

As nerves affect your brain and spinal cord that control all your body actions, symptoms can involve any body part.

Some common symptoms include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Tingling and numbness, especially in the arms and legs
  • An electric shock-like sensation on moving the neck (Lhermitte’s sign)
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Constipation and bowel incontinence
  • Dizziness and vertigo
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle spasms and spasticity
  • Sexual problems such as low libido
  • Blurred or double vision, total or partial loss of vision, and other vision problems
  • Depression and emotional changes
  • Problem with maintaining balance or gait problems
  • Muscle pain or stiffness

How Can You Help Someone Suffering? 

If a loved one is suffering from MS, here are some ways of helping them:

Offer Help With Daily Activities

Depending on their problem, a person who has multiple sclerosis may need help with various daily tasks. You may run some errands or arrange transportation for them. You can also help them with cooking, laundry, cleaning, and shopping.

In some cases, they may also need assistance for feeding, bathing, dressing, or toileting. Try and make adjustments at home that will help your loved one to be more independent. For instance, make doorways wider and ramps, which will make it easier for them to get around.

A physical or occupational therapist may suggest some changes at home that may help.

Promote A Healthy Lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle including a balanced diet and exercise can help in improving various aspects of MS. You can participate in these changes so that they stay motivated.

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Moreover, treat them the way you always have. Ask their suggestions for your problems. You may feel that you do not want to be a burden, but this may not be the case. They might want to continue their role of confidant and social support

Seek Medical Care Whenever Needed

If you notice a change in behavior or their symptoms worsen or don’t improve, it is best to consult medical care.

You can also track their medical appointment and medicines and look out for side effects. If they are advised injectables, help them get them.

Be Flexible

Multiple sclerosis may be unpredictable at times, and each day can be different. 

MS symptoms can range from imbalance, weakness, dizziness, cognitive changes, and vision loss

So, you do need to establish a routine and plan things, but always try and be flexible.

If your loved one is feeling low, talking to them will need prioritizing than the planned to-dos.

Get the Help You Need

Taking care of a loved one with MS can be challenging both physically and mentally. If you are feeling tired or overwhelmed, it is best to take a break. 

Also, if you are unwell, ask for help. You can help others only when you are well and have the energy for that. So, knowing when to ask for help is essential.

You can also consider in-home help or respite care.

Diagnosis

A healthcare professional will ask for a detailed history and run a physical check to diagnose MS. They may also ask for the following tests to confirm the diagnosis:

  • Optical coherence tomography where the image is taken of the nerve layers to look for thinning of the nerve supplying your eye
  • MRI scan to find out inactive and active lesion in the brain or spinal cord
  • Blood tests to rule out the possibility of other conditions having a similar presentation
  • Lumbar puncture or spinal tap to find anything abnormal in your spinal fluid
  • Visual evoked potentials (VEP) test that stimulates nerve pathways to understand the electrical activity of the brain
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Treatment And Medication

As discussed before, there is no cure for MS. On a brighter note, many treatment options are available that can relieve symptoms, reduce the severity and frequency of relapses, and even slow the progression of your condition.

Drugs That Can Slow Down the Progression

Disease-modifying therapies alter how your immune function works, and the Food and Drug Administration recommends them for the relapsing symptoms.

Options include:

  • Injectables: Interferon beta-1b, interferon beta 1-a, peginterferon beta-1a, and glatiramer acetate
  • Oral medicines: Fingolimod, mavenclad, teriflunomide, dimethyl fumarate, and mayzent
  • Infused medicines: Mitoxantrone, natalizumab, alemtuzumab, and ocrelizumab 

Drugs for Exacerbation Symptoms

These medicines are used when the symptoms become severe. Some common options include:

  • Corticosteroids such as prednisone and methylprednisolone
  • Dalfampridine for problems with balance and mobility
  • Antispasmodics or muscle relaxants
  • Donepezil for cognitive changes

Alternative and Complementary Therapies

The following approaches may help with different MS problems:

  • Acupuncture
  • Massage and heat treatment
  • Stress management
  • Exercises
  • Avoiding smoking
  • A healthy diet including vegetables, fruits, and fiber

Some other options that may help are:

  • Physical therapy to restore maximum movement
  • Swallowing and speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy to improve mental and physical function
  • Cognitive rehabilitation for problems in perception and thinking

Precautions And Lifestyle Changes

Some lifestyle changes and precautions that may help are:

  • Consuming a healthy diet
  • Being active
  • Avoiding excess heat
  • Trying stress-relieving techniques such as yoga and meditation
  • Quitting smoking
  • Getting enough rest

Final Thoughts

Taking care of a loved one with multiple sclerosis may be a daunting task. But it is best to take care of yourself and help them whenever possible. The mentioned tips may help you get started.

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