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If you’ve been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), you might not know where to begin. It can be a confusing time as you try to understand what your diagnosis means and how it will impact you and your family.
Everyone is affected by MS differently. At HealthPartners and Park Nicollet, our collaborative team of neurologists, therapists, practitioners, psychologists and nurses work with you every step of the way.
With comprehensive, team-based care close to home, you’ll find support from compassionate specialists you can trust to create a customized treatment plan for you, using the latest research-backed treatments.
Multiple sclerosis is a condition that happens when your body’s immune system is overactive and mistakenly attacks the tissue, called myelin, surrounding your nerves. Myelin protects and insulates your nerves so they can function correctly. When the myelin around your nerves breaks down, your nerves can’t transmit signals properly. This results in muscle, vision, sensory and movement difficulties.
Many times, people with MS experience periods of symptoms interspersed with times when there aren’t any problems. Other times, symptoms may continually worsen over time. Treatment focuses on managing symptoms to help support maintaining an active lifestyle.
In addition to rarer varieties, we treat all four commonly recognized types of multiple sclerosis:
- Relapse-remitting MS (RRMS), the most common type of MS
- Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS)
- Secondary progressive MS (SPMS)
- Primary progressive MS (PPMS)
Multiple sclerosis symptoms can vary widely. The disease doesn’t affect everyone in the same way since it can affect nerves anywhere in your body. Symptoms may be mild, severe or somewhere in between. They may only be present during certain periods of time, and they may also change over time.
Common MS symptoms include:
- Muscle pain and stiffness
- Muscle spasms or “shock” sensations
- Numbness or tingling in your face, torso or limbs
- Vision problems, like blurriness or seeing double
- Walking problems, like unsteadiness or lack of coordination
Many symptoms of MS are also common for other conditions, some neurological and some not.
If you’re concerned about symptoms you’re experiencing, we recommend visiting one of our primary care doctors. Our primary care doctors are experts at diagnosing hundreds of conditions and can help you understand what’s causing your symptoms. If your symptoms require additional expertise, we’ll connect you with one of our board-certified neurologists.
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis are often similar to that of other conditions, so we diagnose MS by ruling other conditions out. This is called differential diagnosis.
If we suspect MS, we’ll begin with a comprehensive physical exam. We’ll ask you how long you’ve been experiencing symptoms, what parts of your body are affected, whether you’ve had similar symptoms at other points in your life and other related questions. We’ll also test your central nervous system, measuring your reflexes, coordination, balance, strength, vision, hearing and more.
From here, we may need further information to diagnose MS. We may perform:
- Imaging tests – Imaging tests, like MRI scans, help us look at the brain and identify changes that may be due to MS.
- Blood tests and spinal taps (also called lumbar punctures) – These assist us in both ruling out other conditions and finding certain immune system indicators that can point to and confirm MS.
The findings of these tests, along with your medical and symptom history, help us diagnose MS.
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with MS, we’re here to support you every way we can. We’ll answer any questions you have, give you a full overview of your treatment options and collaborate to create a treatment plan centered on your specific needs and goals. We’ll also connect you to resources and educational groups focused on helping people with MS build support communities and achieve their treatment goals.
Ongoing research into the disease seeks to better understand multiple sclerosis and discover new treatment options. While right now there’s no cure for MS, the good news is there are a number of clinically proven treatments that help slow the disease’s progression, ease its symptoms and support living a fulfilling life.
Medications used to treat MS focus on two areas: slowing the progress of the disease and managing symptoms.
Medications that slow or modify MS progression focus on changing your body’s immune system response so that it doesn’t attack the myelin surrounding your nerves as aggressively. We might prescribe injections, oral tablets or intravenous infusions for you to take either at home or in your doctor’s office.
Other medications attempt to reduce MS symptoms during periods when they’re particularly bad, called relapses. Our doctors may prescribe an infused corticosteroid during these times. We may also recommend plasma exchange, which is when certain parts of your blood are removed and mixed with a protein solution before being returned to your body. These treatments can help you recover more quickly when symptoms interfere with your quality of life.
Additionally, we may prescribe other medications to help you manage persistent MS symptoms like pain, depression and fatigue.
Depending on your specific MS symptoms, your doctor may recommend you see a physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech-language pathologist or neuropsychologist. Our doctors and therapists constantly communicate to monitor your progress, so rehabilitation becomes one part of your overall treatment plan.
During physical and occupational therapy, we’ll focus on stretching and walking exercises to help you build muscular strength, improve coordination and reduce pain. You may also learn how to use assistive devices, like poles or canes, to support your daily routines.
Neuropsychologists treat cognitive problems caused by MS that often impact communicating, thinking and remembering. They’ll help you focus on techniques to improve your cognitive abilities if MS affects you in these areas.
When speech problems are present, our speech-language pathologists are available to help you maintain your ability to communicate.
At the HealthPartners Institute, we research several neurological diseases to better understand them and offer patients new care options for their symptoms. Please visit the HealthPartners Institute for more information about currently active clinical trials.
Making some adjustments to your home life can help relieve MS symptoms. In particular, the following everyday changes may improve your overall quality of life with MS:
- Avoiding a high body temperature
- Eating a balanced diet
- Exercising regularly
- Getting enough sleep
- Managing stress
We’ll review with you which lifestyle changes you can make to stay comfortable and help maximize the effectiveness of your treatment plan.
The causes of MS aren’t well understood. Research is ongoing to determine why MS develops in certain people, how it can be cured and if it can be prevented.
Right now, both genetic and environmental factors appear to be responsible for MS, but the links aren’t entirely clear.
MS can affect anyone, but research has shown that it’s more frequently diagnosed in the following groups:
- Caucasian people
- People aged 20–50
- People who have had certain viral infections, like mononucleosis (mono)
- People who live in temperate climates
- People with a family history of MS
- People with low levels of vitamin D
Neurologists are actively researching why MS tends to affect these groups more than others, but they haven’t yet made any definitive connections.
We accept most health insurance plans, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, CIGNA, HealthPartners, Medica, Medicare, PreferredOne and many others.
Not sure what your insurance covers? Call the number on the back of your card for help looking at your options.
Don’t have your card in front of you?
Here are member services numbers to help you get started:
- HealthPartners: 800-883-2177
- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota: 800-382-2000
- CIGNA: 800-244-6224 (insurance through work); 866-494-2111 (insurance directly or through the Exchange)
- Medica: 800-952-3455
- Medicare: 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227)
- PreferredOne: 763-847-4477 (in the Twin Cities); 800-997-1750 (outside the metro area)
- United Healthcare: 877-842-3210