Multiple sclerosis: What can be done to slow its progression?

With march being Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month, Dr. Suhayl Dhib-Jalbut, professor and chair of neurology at Rutgers/RWJBarnabas Health, and director of the RWJ Center for MS in New Brunswick, outlines how MS affects the body and what can be done to help slow its progression.

Every multiple sclerosis patient is different, but people are typically diagnosed with MS between the ages of 20-40 years old. While the exact cause of MS is unknown, it is known that something triggers the immune system to attack the central nervous system. The resulting damage to myelin, the protective layer insulating wire-like nerve fibers, disrupts signals to and from the brain.

A common misconception is that there is only one form of MS, but, actually, there are several courses the disease can take, which determines the disease progression and which unique symptoms each person diagnosed with MS will experience. The severity of ailments may vary, disappear completely, or worsen over time.

Symptoms of MS include:

  • Fatigue;
  • Pain;
  • Difficulty walking;
  • Vision problems;
  • Numbness in limbs;
  • Problems thinking, learning and planning;
  • Muscle spasms, weakness and stiffness.

“Besides physical effects, MS can also take a toll on a person’s emotional and spiritual well-being, work and financial life, social relationships and independence,” Jalbut said.

While MS does affect many aspects of life, there are also a variety of ways for patients to live a very healthy, happy and long life with MS by taking approved MS therapies and employing healthy lifestyle choices, including the integration of a nutritious diet, physical activity and mindfulness activities.

MS can be managed to help individuals maintain a high-quality with scientifically proven immune therapies that include:

  • Infusion and injectable therapies;
  • Oral medications;
  • Rehabilitation/physical therapy;
  • Acupuncture.

“A diet full of fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, lean protein, low in processed food and free of alcohol can help significantly slow a person’s MS progression,” Jalbut noted. “Exercise, or physical activity in any form, including swimming or walking, can also help someone diagnosed with MS retain muscle function and can help to eliminate fatigue. It is also important individuals with MS don’t smoke.”

The disease can be complicated by poor cognitive and emotional wellness. Meditation, yoga and other mindfulness activities are great ways for someone with MS to stay focused and keep their brain sharp. Support groups and MS groups also prove to be great resources for someone who has recently been diagnosed with MS or is living with MS.