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Making the Most of Living with Multiple Sclerosis

No one asks to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) and no one's happy when it happens. But long gone are the days when a person could do nothing but "go home and learn to live with it."

MS information is available from lots of sources — of which some are better than others — so pick carefully! The best information sources are your healthcare team, the National MS Society and other MS organizations, and government Web sites.

Multiple Sclerosis is a long-term disease that requires an ongoing partnership with your neurologist. So, it's well worth the effort to find a doctor you trust, respect, and can talk to. See your neurologist at least once a year and come prepared with plenty of information: Your input — how you feel and the symptoms you've been having — is essential to effective treatment planning.

If you've been diagnosed with a relapsing form of MS — or your doctor believes that you're heading in that direction — you may be a perfect candidate for one of the approved disease-modifying therapies. Irreversible nerve damage can occur early in the disease course, so getting on treatment early is the best way to head off some of that damage.

In spite of how alone you may have felt when you first heard your diagnosis, you don't have to deal with it on your own. It's never too early to start building your support system — beginning with your healthcare team and close family and friends, and gradually branching out into your community. You'll be amazed at all the resources that are available to help you. Call the National MS Society at (800) FIGHT-MS for the names of MS specialists and the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America at (800) 532-7667 for info about their support programs and services. As you reach out to others, be ready to let them know how they can help — most people are more than willing to pitch in when they know what you need.

MS is an unpredictable disease — and this unpredictability is what tends to scare folks the most. The best way to deal with uncertainty is to plan for it — financially, vocationally, and any other way you can think of. As it turns out, planning for the best doesn't prepare you for much of anything because the best hardly ever happens in life. Planning for the worst, however, helps you feel more prepared and less vulnerable no matter what comes along.

Despite popular belief, you can actually be healthy with MS. And the healthier you are, the better you're going to feel no matter how your MS is behaving. So, don't let MS hog all your attention.

Because having MS doesn't protect you from other medical problems, it's important to protect your health with a balanced diet, regular exercise, and periodic medical and dental checkups (your neurologist won't be worrying about your heart, lungs, or gums, or reminding you to get a Pap smear or a mammogram). You also need to find healthy ways to manage the unavoidable stresses of daily life. If you find it difficult to do all these healthy things for yourself, don't panic. Whatever you eat, drink, or do, you're not going to make your MS get worse. And keeping active isn't going to make your MS worse either — your body will let you know if you need to take a rest or cool down — so enjoy yourself.

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