A Special Report on Oral Treatments for MS

Health Union recently released results from the 2014 MS in America Survey, which included responses from more than 5,000 multiple sclerosis patients. The survey addressed a variety of topics that impact individuals living with MS, including diagnosis, symptoms, treatment, relationships, career, and quality of life.

A special section of this survey focused on the use of oral MS therapies. Historically, prescription treatment of MS has been dominated by injectable and infusion therapies. With the recent introduction of oral prescription drugs for the most common type of MS called relapsing remitting MS (RRMS), this paradigm is shifting towards orals, with nearly a third of RRMS patients reporting using an oral prescription.

Needle fatigue, tolerability, convenience and efficacy are the most cited reasons for people choosing oral therapies and respondents report being more satisfied with oral therapies than injectables. Of those currently taking an injectable, nearly half have considered switching to an oral, signaling a continued shift away from injectable therapies.

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Overall, patients taking oral MS medications found their medications to be equally effective as injectable treatments. However, 58% of respondents felt that oral medications offered better tolerability.

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More results from the 2014 MS in America survey can be found on MultipleSclerosis.Net, including the special report on oral MS treatments.

The MS in America Study was conducted online in early 2014. The goal of the study was to establish an understanding of the current state of people affected by MS. The survey included a total of 156 questions on a broad range of topics.

A total of 6,202 people started the survey. 5,710 met eligibility requirements, and 5,004 people completed the survey. To qualify for the survey, participants had to be MS patients over 18 years old and a US resident or US citizen living abroad. The study was solely developed and funded by Health Union, LLC which does not manufacture, sell nor market any product to diagnose, prevent or treat MS or any other disease.

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Welcoming Spring with New Activities for the MS Community

March 20th marks the first day of spring, and for many, you can start to see and feel the
signs that summer is approaching. The days become longer, the air becomes warmer, and the plants begin to grow again. I personally am looking forward to the evenings on the porch after work. – sitting with my feet up, just watching as the neighbors stroll by. The neighborhood becomes active again, with people stopping to say ‘hello’ instead of running inside to beat the cold. Wildlife starts to show their furry faces, popping by the porch to grab some treats.

Over this harsh New Jersey winter, I began to create a list of things that I wished to accomplish once the weather became milder. I welcomed 2014 as the year to try something new, and have pushed off many of these new things until now. Cabin fever has gotten a hold of me and I can’t wait to get out! I plan to become more active, but not in a physical sense. I want to spend more quality time with people and enjoy just being present in the moment. Taking the time to fully invest myself in a task with a friend, without thinking about the thousands of other things I need to do, or rushing off to the next event.Spring email sign-up_edit

With the nice weather, you may also wish to be more active, perhaps joining an MS group,
or attending an educational MS event in your area. MSAA provides free local MS events throughout the country where you can learn about a certain topic, often presented by an MS specialist. The Calendar of Events on our webpage provides information on the type and location of these events. Events are continually being added every day. If you register with MSAA, you can receive information via e-mail or regular mail when an event is coming to your area. Registration is available on our webpage, or, you can reach out to our helpline at 1-800-532-7667 ext. 154 and a helpline consultant will be happy to take your information.

So what do you look forward to most in the spring? Do you have any plans or things you would like to try?

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If you need health insurance…

Don’t forget that Open Enrollment for purchasing health insurance through the new Health Insurance Marketplace ends this year on March 31st. 

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If you need health insurance and have not already visited the website www.healthcare.gov or called an Insurance Navigator at (800) 318-2596, do it now! Give yourself time to make an informed decision about the best options for you. Five million Americans have already enrolled.

Remember, once the 2014 Open Enrollment period closes, you will not be able to purchase insurance until 2015 Open Enrollment begins, unless you have a qualifying life event (such as the loss of a job or the birth of a new baby). 

Need more information? You can also review MSAA’s website for important information about how the ACA impacts you.

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Spread Some Sunshine For MS Awareness Month

jeri

March is half over and MS Awareness month is in full swing. We’ve come a long way in helping people understand the difference between multiple sclerosis (MS) and the disease known for “Jerry’s Kids.” I have to admit, I even made that mistake when I was first diagnosed.

Lying there in the hospital bed, feeling vulnerable in the one-size-fits-nobody cotton gown, I listened as my doctor broke the news in his most apologetic tone.

“I can’t say for sure, but it’s possible you have multiple sclerosis,” he stammered.

“You mean like that disease with the telethon?” I asked.

“No, you’re confusing MS with muscular dystrophy,” he corrected me. But that was all I got. No literature or other helpful information that might explain it further.

So here I am, fifteen years later, reflecting on what has changed. Granted, it seems less folks are making that mistake, but we’re a far cry from the level of “awareness” needed to make MS a household word. Wouldn’t it be nice to see medical breakthroughs in MS as part of your typical nightly news program?

Maybe all MS needs is a good PR campaign. That’s where we who are living with it come in, sharing the importance of our cause and getting folks to pay attention.

But how do we go about affecting this change? How can you and I raise awareness so that the words “multiple sclerosis” roll easily off the tongues of healthy people? It takes communication on every level and that should start at home.

Don’t be overwhelmed thinking you have to have a grand plan or platform, or that your voice doesn’t matter. Every voice matters! And I’ve got a simple plan for spreading MS Awareness:

  1. Learn: You can’t explain MS to someone else until you are comfortable that you, yourself know what it is. So learn all you can.
  2. Simplify: If you’re trying to explain how MS affects you, do it with analogies. I always compare my nervous system to an old lamp and MS has caused its cord to fray. My brain flickers just like the light when the signals can’t get through. Depending on where it’s frayed, my symptoms will vary.
  3. Express yourself: Don’t think you have to be a writer, speaker, or artist to share what you know about MS. Use your own unique talents. If you like to bake, make cookies with “MS” written in frosting for a conversation starter. Maybe you’re into woodworking, so make a wallhanging or mailbox with an MS theme. Like to sew or make jewelry? Design your own MS emblems and add them to your ensemble in order to spark interest. Everyone has some gift to give to the MS awareness campaign.
  4. Get Social: The internet is a tool of empowerment. Share awareness graphics with your friends on Facebook.  MSAA_month_badge3Tweet links to Awareness fundraisers and events on Twitter. Create a video to help the newly diagnosed understand it’s not the end of the world.  Remember to use hashtag #MSAwareness when posting on social media.
  5. Reach out: Mother Teresa knew what she was talking about when she said “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” That’s the best advice I ever heard, after all, she made a difference, right? Start with family and friends and before you know it, you are telling the produce manager at the grocery store all about MS.

Think of awareness as sunshine. Every time we spread our MS message, sharing the need for research and funding, we shine a little more light on our cause–and our future looks that much brighter.

References:

http://www.healthline.com/health/multiple-sclerosis/youve-got-this

Credit:

Hope for a Cure” illustration by Jeri Burtchell

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Commonly Missed Medical Expenses for Tax Deductions

By Matt Cavallo:

The change of the season can only mean one thing: taxes! I can’t turn on my TV or radio right now without hearing an advertisement for tax preparation. Whether you prepare your own taxes or use a tax preparation service, one of the most overlooked areas for tax deductions are medical expenses. In this blog, I will provide a list of deductions that you may have overlooked in previous years.

As a person living with multiple sclerosis, your out-of-pocket medical expenses can be extremely high in any given year. You probably know that your out-of-pocket medical expenses are deductible, but do you know what is considered a medical expense? For example, did you know that the mileage for all the trips you made back and forth to the neurologist, MRI scan or other doctor appointments are tax deductible? If you did not record the mileage during the appointments, don’t worry. Your explanation of benefits from your insurance company will list of all the appointments that you would have traveled for. You can then calculate the mileage to and from your appointment online at Google or Mapquest, and then add up total mileage for all of your doctor visits and you’ll get your deduction amount.

This is just one example of many tax deductions that people living with MS miss every year. Other items that you can write off as a tax deduction include items that insurance may not cover, such as acupuncture and chiropractic care; medical equipment; medications; and smoking cessation programs. There are also health expenses that may not be deducted. Health Savings Accounts (HSA), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) and Medical Savings Accounts (MSA) are all bought with pretax dollars, so your contributions cannot be tax deductible. Also non-prescription medications, medications from other countries and nutritional supplements cannot be deducted.

There are certain items that can be viewed as either deducible or not deductible. While you cannot write off visits that insurance did pay for, did you know that you can write off your self-funded medical insurance premium as a tax deduction? For example, if you pay $400 per month for medical insurance, then that is an additional $4,800 for the year that can go towards your itemized deductions! However, while insurance paid for medical care can be deducted, you cannot write off any premium for extra insurance like life, supplemental or employer-sponsored program paid with pre-tax dollars. Also gym memberships may be a write off – if the doctor writes a letter of medical necessity stating that you need the membership for health reasons, but a gym membership for personal fitness or stress reduction is not considered a write-off.

Life with MS can be expensive. Make sure that you take advantage of tax deductions for all expenses related to your illness. Please note that I am not a tax expert and these tips are to be used for informational purposes only.  Before filling out your medical deductions, please read about all of the deductions that are acceptable and not acceptable located in form IRS Publication 502 – Medical and Dental Expenses. IRS Publication 502 breaks down all of the items that may or may not be deducted. Start spring out right and maximize those healthcare deductions!

Resource:

http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p502.pdf

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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My Journey with MS Injections and Others’ Perceptions

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Sometimes like this weekend, for example, things will get to me. I attended a wedding weekend in paradise, bikini-clad in the Florida Keys, spending time with really great people, many of whom I’m meeting for the first time. And moreover, they’re meeting me for the first time. I was the best man’s date; his younger brother was getting married. I love social environments and enjoy meeting new people, especially those close to the people I love.

I was diagnosed at 23 years old. Beginning then, I decided it was all I could do to keep my life and my health in control where I could. I value keeping up on my treatment, staying healthy, and taking the disease seriously. It puts me at ease knowing I am actively doing all I can, and I’m proud of that. After locking down the “controllable” details (regimenting injections, exercise, diet, keeping up with friends and relationships, living in a positive environment, and embracing happiness), I’m freed up then to make the best choices possible when confronted with “life.” In this way, I am generally relaxed and comfortable in my own skin, navigating situations with conscious control and attention. When I’m walking around with injection site spots at a beautiful beach resort, that’s a time it’s a little easier to forget to be sensitive to the topic.

I’ve been able to stay healthy without experiencing too many symptoms too often. So for an otherwise healthy 27 year-old girl, it’s the (we’ll call them) “little things” that I’ll forget about. And truthfully, to me it seems those things can affect everyone else before they affect me. I attribute it to fear of the unknown. “Anna, you are SO sunburned on the top of your leg and on your hips! How does that even happen? Or is that a bruise? Hey, is your man beating you!?” (Referring to the best man.) Bless his heart…

Living with MS and injection site reactions and red welts, those marks and bruises from the shots that slow down the disease, I’ll forget about them unless they hurt or become somehow more inflamed. My boyfriend is mostly used to them, but I know it makes him sad that they’re even there at all; it’s just another reminder of the MS. When people see bruises in weird places, they’ll assume the man you’re with is probably the one beating you… You notice those looks and darting eyes. We talk about it and how he feels, and sometimes if I do something clumsy or forgetful, he’ll think, “Is that the MS?” and then he’ll go, “Do I have MS?” (Referring to himself.) Adorable.

Bottom line is, I don’t worry about people feeling awkward when I tell them that I have MS, I’m not embarrassed, and I’ll talk about it to anyone who’s curious. Once the unknown becomes understood, nothing’s a big deal, and in some strange way, it can make the connection deeper and easier. The whole thing seems to make me a more compassionate and happier person. The reactions when I tell a concerned party not to worry, are something between a quizzical look and concern, so then I’ll go on, “I have MS.” And then the, “Oh I’m so sorry,” etc. I guess why it gets to me, really, is because I feel like some people are condescending, or something even more cavalier. I’m doing everything I can do to control what I can and be the healthiest I can be, but those red spots are a blessing, and I’ve grown to learn to see them that way.

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Dental Hygiene and Multiple Sclerosis

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Dental issues can create a problem for anyone, but especially for individuals with MS.  Gum disease, abscesses, and decay can all lead to infections, which may cause MS symptoms to increase.  Often in the management of other health-related issues, dental issues are overlooked.  In coordinating MS doctors’ appointments and follow up’s, it is often a challenge to coordinate dental care as well.

Overall dental health is important for many reasons.  It promotes healthy eating and digestion, allowing our bodies to absorb the right amount of nutrients.  It is also an important factor in enhancing the enjoyment of food and being social.

Individuals with significant fatigue and/or mobility impairment may find office visits beyond those required for their MS care to be particularly difficult to manage. It may be helpful to inform the doctor or office staff of any difficulties you may have with fatigue or mobility.  For many, sitting in the dental chair for an hour can be quite uncomfortable due to these symptoms. Talk with the office staff about ways that this can be managed.  Perhaps, many of the initial “question and answer” type things can be performed while sitting or standing in a more comfortable position.

If the symptoms of MS are impacting the ability to brush and floss, speak with your doctor about other tools or adaptive devices that may be helpful.  If the grip on your toothbrush is too small, perhaps wrapping something around the base such as tape or an ace-bandage may assist with making the grip better.  You may also cut a tennis ball and place the toothbrush through the ball for a larger grip, or fasten a bicycle-type handle to the base.

Although it is recommended to brush and floss, don’t forget about the power of mouth wash.  Many washes offer an antiseptic quality that assists with fighting gum disease.  With gum and infections causing many dental issues, mouth wash may be an appropriate additive to your brushing routine to help try to prevent infections and inflammation.

With the changes in the Affordable Care Act and individuals now receiving greater access to medical care, it may be helpful to contact your insurer to learn about your dental benefits.  For those without coverage or without insurance, there are still many ways to be seen by a dentist.

Check out the following tips on how to find dental care for the uninsured:

  • Check for a local federally qualified health clinic which offers dental services
  • Look into local dental schools. Most of these teaching facilities have clinics that allow dental students to gain experience treating patients while providing care at a reduced cost. Experienced, licensed dentists closely supervise the students
  • Dental Lifelines Network offers information about free dental services in the area for those that qualify.  You can look up information about your state’s program on the program’s website: http://dentallifeline.org/
  • Dial 2-1-1 and connect with your local United Way. You may be directed to free or reduced cost dental services
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Multiple Sclerosis Awareness (when you might not want people to be aware)…

Diagnosis Awareness Blog Post Image

March is MS Awareness Month. As an advocacy group, you will hear MSAA discuss our available resources, and encourage you to get out and be active about raising awareness for MS and supporting programs which benefit individuals with MS. We will promote and support expanding knowledge and information about MS. With all of that going on, it might feel like you need to wave a flag shouting, “HERE I AM. I HAVE MS!!!”

As the Manager of Client Services at MSAA, I wanted to acknowledge that there are times when you (or your friend or family member) may not want others to know about a diagnosis. While you may want to be an advocate to spread awareness and information to help people understand about MS, you may not want certain people (i.e. an employer, a new boyfriend, or a casual acquaintance) to know you or a loved one has MS.

There is nothing secretive about a diagnosis, but it is your (or your loved one’s) own personal health information. While some people might share that they had a heart attack or stroke with anyone they meet, others might feel medical information is no one else’s business and only talk about it with a doctor or close family member.

So, if you want to be an advocate but not shout a diagnosis from the rooftops, what can you do?

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On social media sites:

Think before you post. Are you comfortable with everyone seeing your update or picture? If not, make sure to check your privacy settings before sharing personal (health-related) information so that only people you want to learn about your private information, such as close family or friends, can see your updates and pictures.

In person:

If you want to talk about MS in the community, know that not everyone who spreads information and encourages activity for a cause will be personally affected by it. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your diagnosis, make it general: “ I’m helping out with a cause… Can you help too?” or: “There is a charity I support, and I wanted you to know about them and what they do” are generic ways to introduce information about “your cause,” even if you don’t want anyone to know it is personal.

In many of these situations, there may be a future point in time where you might want to share a diagnosis. On the job, you may decide to ask for a reasonable accommodation and share a diagnosis when needed. When your boyfriend goes from being casual to serious, you might feel comfortable disclosing. Likewise, if a casual acquaintance becomes a good friend, you may want to share. If not, there is no pressure. You can still be an advocate for MS without disclosing a diagnosis.

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March is MS Awareness Month

The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) recognizes March as MS Awareness Month. Throughout the month, MSAA is raising awareness and improving lives today!

March MS Awareness Month calendar Graphic

MS Awareness Month is a great opportunity for everyone to learn more about multiple sclerosis and discover all the services and support MSAA offers. 

MSAA offers the following ways to learn and support the MS community:

  • Visit our website, mymsaa.org, which provides easy access to vital information, resources, and tools from your desktop, mobile phone, or tablet.
  • View any of our educational videos and webinars in our MSi Video Library ranging in topic from MS symptom management to understanding Medicare, and much more.
  • Read one of our publications, including MSAA’s award-winning magazine, The Motivator, and the recently published MS Research Update with the latest latest findings in MS treatments and research.
  • Attend one of MSAA’s educational events for people with MS and care partners – check our Calendar of Events to find upcoming programs happening in your area.
  • Check out MSAA’s 2014 Art Showcase, featuring creative and beautiful artwork by individuals with MS.

Help to spread MS awareness by using MSAA’s “March is MS Awareness Month” badge as your social media profile picture (right-click the image below, save it to your computer, then use it on your Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or LinkedIn account profile pictures). 

Also remember to use the hashtag #MSAwareness in your social media posts.

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We look forward to everyone learning more about MS during MS Awareness Month. And we greatly appreciate your continued support of our vital mission of improving lives today for the entire MS community.

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Self-Advocacy for People with Multiple Sclerosis

Different thoughts may come to mind when you hear the word ‘advocacy.’ Some may not be familiar with the term or others may have a very vivid description of what the word means to them. Advocacy can be defined as active support, pleading or arguing in favor of something or for some type of cause. Individuals advocate for themselves in different ways, sometimes without the knowledge that they’re engaging in self-advocacy. When you visit your doctor and ask questions, this is a form of self-advocacy. You are supporting your healthcare by requesting more information to make the best informed decisions you can regarding your care. Some individuals have others assist them with this task at times; family members, friends and caregivers have been known to advocate for care when involved in the healthcare process. Sometimes it’s helpful to have another voice or set of ears advocating for your health needs when interacting with your medical team, and there can be different forms of this advocacy presented.

Here are some ways the MSAA can help you remain an advocate in your healthcare:

  • My MS Manager™:  a mobile-phone application to track disease activity, store         medical information, generate reports, and assist individuals with their treatment      plan
  • MSAA’s S.E.A.R.C.H.™ Program:  tools to help individuals with learning about the approved long-term treatments for MS, along with questions to discuss with the patient’s medical team
  • My MS Resource Locator: an MS-specific, online database offering targeted information and unique support services, including detailed guides

What are some ways you advocate for your care?

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