- Reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH
Important Ways to Safeguard Your Health if You Have MS
Multiple sclerosis brings with it a unique set of challenges. The condition also increases your risk for other health issues. Some are known complications of MS, while others remain unclear. The good news is there are steps you can take to help prevent some of these MS health risks. It’s also important to be aware of their warning signs, so you and your doctor can take quick action.
A 2013 Swedish study published in the journal Multiple Sclerosis found that women with MS are at significantly increased risk of cardiovascular diseases including heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and atrial fibrillation. It’s vital that you stay active and exercise, even if you’re in a wheelchair, to keep your heart and blood pumping throughout your body, says Stephen Krieger, MD, a neurologist at the Corinne Goldsmith Dickinson Center for MS and an assistant professor of neurology at Mount Sinai Hospital, both in New York. Eat a heart-healthy diet and be diligent about knowing your numbers, especially cholesterol counts and blood pressure.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
You could be at risk for this medical issue from a loss of mobility. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is the formation of a blood clot deep in the vein of a leg. It’s particularly dangerous if it breaks away and travels to a lung. If you’re in a wheelchair, the DVT risk is similar to the risk everyone faces when seated on an airplane for a long flight. A study published in January 2012 in the journal Neuroepidemiology compared more than 17,400 Danish MS patients to 87,000 people without MS and found that the MS patients were more likely to develop DVT than the general population. Watch for swelling, pain, or tenderness in your leg. Call your doctor if your leg becomes red or warm to the touch. Practice leg-strengthening exercises, modified as needed.
According to research published in BMC Neurology in December 2013, having MS increases the risk of developing a seizure disorder, possibly related to MS lesions in the brain. If you experience seizures, work with your doctor on a treatment plan. Keep a journal to track your seizures and how long they last. Sleep well as lack of sleep can increase your risk of having seizures, which should be treated as a medical emergency. If you or someone you know is experiencing a seizure, call 911 immediately.
A study published in the European Journal of Neurology in February 2014 was the first to find that women with multiple sclerosis may be at increased risk for developing breast cancer. The researchers noted that larger-scale studies are needed, however. Krieger doesn’t believe that MS patients are at higher risk for cancer than the general population, although some drugs may suppress your immune system. All women need to be vigilant about their breast cancer risk and get regular cancer screenings appropriate to their age, Krieger says. You may also need additional cancer screenings depending on the MS medications you take.
MS increases your risk of sleep disorders. Although restless legs syndrome (RLS) can be difficult to distinguish from muscle spasms, people with MS appear to have RLS at a higher rate than the general population. Other sleep disorders linked to MS are insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and rapid eye movement behavior disorder. Research published in the January 2014 issue of Sleep Medicine found that treating underlying sleep disorders might help ease MS-related fatigue. Talk with your doctor if you’re having trouble getting a good night’s sleep. You may benefit from participating in a sleep study that can pinpoint problems.
Urinary and Bladder Problems
MS may leave you vulnerable to frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs). Symptoms include a frequent urge to go and a burning sensation with urination. UTIs also can make your MS symptoms worse. That’s why antibiotic treatment is essential. However, an overactive bladder also may cause urgency. Treatment options for overactive bladder include Botox and nerve stimulation. Be sure to drink enough fluids to help prevent UTIs. Also, knowing where bathrooms are wherever you go will give you some peace of mind.
Depression and Suicide
It’s not unusual to feel sadness and other emotions when you learn you have MS. As your disease progresses, you’re likely to have good days and bad days, and, along with them, worries and fears. That’s normal, too. If you become depressed or extremely irritable and your sadness doesn’t seem to ever go away or impairs your daily functioning, seek help. Untreated depression can lead to suicide. A mental health professional experienced with MS can be an important member of your health care team.