What is this?

By Doug Ankerman

Several months after I was bestowed with my MS diagnosis, I hit a rough patch.

My legs were weak and wobbly. My balance off-kilter. But the worst, was my vision.

My focus would go in and out. While bright lights turned me into a shriveling shrew.

Oncoming car headlights forced me to wear sunglasses at night. Not in tribute to 80’s pop-star Corey Hart, but because the glare was blinding.

(Yeah, I continued to drive because I was young, dumb, and bull-headed.)

What was I experiencing? A relapse? A flare? An exacerbation? Frankly I didn’t care what it was called—all I knew was that I was terrified.

My mind spun wildly. Was my condition here to stay? Was this my new life? Did Corey Hart have MS, too?

Lucky for me a three-day bender of IV steroids (and with it, the taste of sucking on an iron popsicle) helped put things back to normal. Well, as normal as MS could be.

Time passed. Relapse-free. But multiple sclerosis continued a slow, gradual nip and tuck at my faculties till doctors gave me the title of being “secondary-progressive.”

Which was fine. Whatever. It was just name to me. Some may think my outlook is trite but I believe when one has MS, you toughen up. You learn to deal with every situation. And take nothing for granted. You appreciate small victories. Cherish every moment. Live each day like crazy. Because when you have MS, you know how quickly things can change.

If you think you are experiencing a MS relapse, talk to your doctor first. But also remain calm. Breathe deep. And if you can avoid it, don’t wear sunglasses at night.

*Doug writes silly stuff about MS and other topics on his humor blog at myoddsock.com.

Share Button

Cinnamon Apples

What a perfect side dish to make in September!  Maybe you could even go apple picking.

These Cinnamon Apples are a quick and a terrific way to add a fruit to your table this fall season. Great to top on ice cream, waffles, and granola.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons of butter
  • 5 Medium apples peeled and diced
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon

Instructions

  1. In a large skillet melt butter.
  2. Add in medium apples and coat with butter.
  3. Sprinkle in the sugar and cinnamon and stir.

Cook on medium heat for 10 minutes until the apples become soft.

Share Button

Could This Be A Relapse?

On MSAA’s Helpline we often hear questions about MS relapses and what constitutes a relapse. Individuals ask whether the symptoms they are currently experiencing are just due to their MS or if an exacerbation of symptoms may be occurring. These are great questions that warrant valid and informative responses. The challenging piece of this, on the part of the healthcare professional at times, is helping to identify a true MS relapse from a pseudoexacerbation.

To be diagnosed with a true relapse, there must be certain factors at play. Individuals will either experience new symptoms or a worsening/recurrence of existing symptoms. These acute symptoms have to be present for at least 24-48 hours, without signs of other infections or fevers. This is where it can become tricky identifying a relapse from a pseudoexacerbation. Because with the latter, one can experience a temporary worsening of symptoms without inflammation or nerve damage occurring. A pseudo flare can result from illness/infection, fever, stress, heat sensitivity and other factors.

It’s important to discuss these differences with your healthcare team so that you can better communicate if you’re feeling any changes in your symptoms. Ask your doctor what signs you should look for if a relapse may be present, and when you should reach out to their office for assistance. Talk about ways a relapse could be treated and managed if it occurs. And make a plan for what you should do if you’re not able to get in touch with your doctor’s office. Some individuals will seek emergency medical services if needed when they’re experiencing worsening symptoms. So ask your doctor if/when you should seek care in this manner. Asking questions about MS relapses can be an integral part of your overall treatment plan and follow-up care.

Share Button

Postpartum Relapses

By Alene Dover

Did you know that you can be at an increased risk of a relapse after you deliver a baby?

This was the message that I heard as I was trying to fulfill my dream of becoming a mother.

It didn’t help that I was 40 years old at the time, and already felt that I had age stacked against me. Now, I had to add on the risk that MS could cause to my health postpartum.

I needed to understand and gather the facts.

Was this in fact true?

If so, was there anything that I could do to reduce my risk of a postpartum flare?

And once I had a confirmed pregnancy, this quest for the truth became deeply personal.

I started with my most trusted resources – my neurologist.

Not only is she highly trained and stays on top of all the latest research, but she also knows me and my body.

I was relieved when she said that the risk of a postpartum relapse had more to do with my risk of a relapse pre-pregnancy. If I was at a high risk of a flare before I got pregnant, then, yes, I could likely experience a flare after delivering my baby.

However, if my disease activity was stable for at least six months prior to conception, that was a valuable indicator that I wasn’t as likely to experience a postpartum flare.

This was further motivation for me to best manage my diagnosis of relapsing-remitting MS.

Thankfully, I have done a lot with diet and lifestyle to manage MS. As a result of this work and my doctor’s recommendations, I’ve had five years of stabilization. The odds were in my favor.

That said, I’m not a gambling girl.

What else could I do?

My neurologist shared that exclusive breastfeeding can further reduce my risk of a postpartum flare. Breastfeeding is a personal decision that each new mom can decide if it’s the right decision for her and her family, but certainly knowing this big perk that it offers is encouraging for us new moms in the MS community.

Beyond this valuable information from my neurologist, I also chose to prioritize three other factors that I attribute to helping me to managing MS. 

Vitamin D

During my initial bloodwork, my vitamin D levels were low, so I chose to supplement with the guidance of my doctor and get outside as much as possible during pregnancy.

Food

If I wasn’t motivated enough by the fact that my body was creating a new life, I was motivated to keep my body healthy so I could be an active mom once she arrives.

Stress

With all the preparations and anticipation, I had to be extremely intentional with managing stress. Stress doesn’t do our body – especially MS – any favors. So, gave myself grace during pregnancy, practiced yoga and mindful breathing.

If you’d like to follow along on my pregnancy journey, you can join me on Instagram at www.instagram.com/lesspharmmoretable or at www.lesspharmmoretable.com.

Share Button

Barbara Dixon – September 2021 Artist of the Month

Each year, we feature the work of artists affected by multiple sclerosis in our annual MSAA Art Showcase. We receive many wonderful submissions from across the country and are delighted to share the work of these artists and their inspirational stories with you, including highlighting one artist each month as our Artist of the Month. This month, we are proud to feature artist Barbara Dixon of Woodstock, GA:

Barbara Dixon created this artwork entitled "Table Manners"
“Table Manners”

About the Artist – Barbara Dixon

Continue reading
Share Button

Ask the Expert – MS Relapses

Featuring Barry A. Hendin, MD
MSAA’s Chief Medical Officer

Question: How do you determine when a relapse is severe enough to be treated with IV steroids versus waiting to see if the relapse will go away on its own? Also, if a patient does not receive IV steroids, what other treatments or changes in lifestyle may be recommended for a less-severe relapse?

Answer: Clinicians vary widely in their threshold for using steroids for relapses… and patients vary widely in their desire to be treated with steroids for relapses. The most common use of steroids is for a relapse that interferes with function. For example, severe vertigo, weakness, or gait dysfunction are common symptoms that can greatly interfere with function.

However, it’s important to know what steroids can and cannot do for a relapse. Steroids shorten the recovery period, but do not significantly change the outcome of the relapse. Steroids also have a wide variety of potential side effects, including annoying symptoms such as insomnia… or more severe side effects such as gastrointestinal bleeding and aseptic necrosis of the hip (aseptic necrosis is a serious condition that weakens the bone). So, as with all medications, the potential risks need to be balanced with the potential benefits. In addition, while steroids given orally or intravenously are the most common treatment for relapses, ACTH and plasmapheresis may be used as alternatives in certain instances. 

Whether or not steroids are used, relapses are disconcerting. This a time to emphasize rest and stress reduction. Also, it’s important to discuss any relapses that occur, with your clinician, to determine the right course for you. It is a time to consider not just the treatment for the relapse itself, but whether your disease-modifying therapy (DMT) is working optimally. Taking into consideration the severity and frequency of your relapses, your neurologist can advise you on whether or not it is time to consider a different DMT for your MS.

Barry A. Hendin, MD, is a neurologist and Director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Arizona. He is also Director of the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic at Banner University Medical Center and Clinical Professor of Neurology at the University of Arizona Medical School.

Share Button