The diagnosis of multiple sclerosis isn’t like being diagnosed with the flu. With the flu, treatment and time will clear up not only the symptoms but the disease itself. But multiple sclerosis is a lifelong, degenerative and progressive disease that causes issues with the central nervous system due to damaged nerves in the brain and spinal cord. This damage is irreparable.
So, in treating MS, the idea is to manage symptoms during relapse and do what is possible to increase time between relapses, as well as reduce the severity of the symptoms experienced during an episode. At the same time, there are some complex symptoms of the disease that are harder to handle, and it’s important to learn to manage these in order to maintain a high quality of life, even during a severe relapse.
What are the complex symptoms of MS?
One of the main complications in multiple sclerosis patients is the effect nerve damage has on mobility and ambulatory ability. The fact that the central nervous system, or CNS, is attacked by the immune system causes damage to the nerves in the spinal cord and brain, which becomes more extensive over time.
That damage, while bringing forth a number of symptoms, is usually most pronounced in mobility, which is more than just walking. Mobility includes:
- Changing positions
- Maintaining a position
- Lifting or carrying objects
- Transferring oneself from point A to point B
- Use of hands and arms
- Moving using equipment
- Moving to a new location
- Driving or using transportation
The reason the issue of mobility is complex in nature is because of the additional problems it can cause. Taking a look at this list, there are a number of resulting additional symptoms that an inability to complete these tasks can cause. For example, the inability to change position can lead to pressure sores, with too much weight on a single area of the body for too long causing skin legions. As if that isn’t complex enough, those legions are open wounds, ready and waiting for bacteria and viruses to invade and cause an infection. That infection can exacerbate MS symptoms, which cycles back through the initial symptoms again.
Consider, too, that difficulty with fine motor skills of the hands and arms can lead to other issues. For example, anything from writing to cooking can be an issue. When there is difficulty wielding a pot or even a utensil, patients are more likely to burn themselves, and avoiding cooking can lead to poor nutrition and weakness. Fine motor skills are also required to bathe properly, which can cause hygiene problems, and to brush teeth, which can cause dental issues.
More complex symptoms of MS
Because mobility is a major source of complications, it is one of the first to be addressed. But other complex symptoms of multiple sclerosis could be just as debilitating or even worse. Consider that a major symptom of MS is depression. This is because the parts of the nervous system that could be attacked, or that could develop lesions, are in the brain, where mood is controlled.
A severe or frequent change in mood alone can cause social issues, making it more difficult to function normally around family and friends. A patient, however, can’t do much to manage these symptoms because this is not caused by a chemical imbalance but by nerve damage. Therefore, medication doesn’t often help, and this can lead to further depressive issues.
Depression may or may not be treatable in MS patients. If the depression is due to circumstances and facing the issues that come with the disease, medication may help, but not if the problem is due to nerve damage. It can be difficult to determine which factor is to blame, and it could be both. If medication is used, it has to be managed carefully because some depression drugs can exacerbate other symptoms of multiple sclerosis, which then causes additional problems.
Another quite complex symptom of multiple sclerosis is related to urinary issues. The symptoms themselves are complex because they range in nature.
A patient could experience:
- Frequent need to urinate
- Urgent need to urinate
- Incontinence or inability to control urination
- Difficulty emptying the bladder
- Inability to recognize the need to urinate
With such a wide range of urinary symptoms, and the fact that multiple symptoms could appear, this is a very complex issue for MS patients. But the trouble doesn’t end there.
All of these symptoms could lead to a secondary symptom – a urinary tract infection. UTIs are very common among patients with multiple sclerosis because they are caused by all the related urinary symptoms that come with MS. While the disease itself doesn’t cause the infection, it causes the issues that lead to infection. And this is a conundrum because any infection can increase the frequency and severity of other MS symptoms. So, much like certain issues with mobility, a patient could swing into a vicious cycle of one symptom exacerbating another.
Managing complex symptoms
Managing the complex symptoms of multiple sclerosis is similar to managing the more common symptoms. With mobility, patients should take precautions, having assisting mechanisms like canes or walkers for “bad” days, keeping their homes easily accessible with clear walkways, and exercising as much as possible to maintain adequate strength and agility that will assist during relapses in controlling the severity of the effects. Exercise is also good for mood and staving off bouts of depression.
Eating healthy to maintain a healthy weight and staying hydrated are of serious concern, in order to assure that the patient doesn’t compromise the strength they have. Excess weight makes mobility more difficult, and dehydration can worsen symptoms.
Mostly importantly, keeping in touch with the managing physician about medications, relapses, and any potential injuries or illnesses can help reduce drug interactions, reduce occurrence of relapses, keep symptoms to a minimum rather than becoming severe, and help reduce other potential issues that could arise.
To stay healthy, even when complex symptoms arise, patience and diligence to stay on top of things are the most important qualities a patient with multiple sclerosis can have. These aspects in a personality go a long way in keeping up a high quality of life.