Monitoring MS Symptoms and Trying To Avoid Relapses

By: Stacie Prada

Most of my energy is focused on managing my health with the goal of avoiding relapses and disease progression. Since fatigue tends to be my earliest symptom when I’m headed for a relapse, I monitor my fatigue level and adapt my activities and schedule to treat fatigue seriously.

By the time I was diagnosed with MS, fatigue had become a constant presence in my health. I felt I had no choice but to push through it and only stop when I physically could no longer do any more. Just because I could push through it at times, it came at the price of relapses. In the span of a little more than a year after learning I had MS, I had three exacerbations.

Fortunately my MS is relapse remitting, and my body has responded well to disease modifying medication and lifestyle changes. It’s now been four years since I’ve felt like I had an exacerbation, and my MRI scans support the conclusion that I haven’t had a relapse in that time. Please know that I know I’m lucky this is working for me, and someone else may do everything they can and still have relapses. What I’m doing now may not work forever, but I’ll keep doing it as long as it works for me.

Specifically I listen to my body and take it seriously when my energy level dips. I track my fatigue level and adapt my activities based on that level. When fatigue overwhelms me or I’m having an exacerbation, I prioritize self care above all else. The hard part about self care is that what I think I may need in the moment might not be helpful for me in the long run. A good example is sleeping during the day. Sleeping more than an hour or so during the day usually upsets my sleep hygiene and keeps me up during the night. Once that starts, it can take a week or so to get back on track and sleeping through the night again.

If I’ve hit the point where I realize I need to stay home from work or other activities, I’ll clear my calendar. I’ll prioritize obligations and only do the top of the list based on mandatory items and those that will support me the most. The threshold for a mandatory item is really high at this point, and they’re things that absolutely can’t wait to be done differently.

Following these guidelines helps me make good use of my time for physical health recovery and mental health maintenance:

1. Look into yourself. What do you need most right now? The answer will be different from moment to moment. Check in frequently.
2. Rally the troops on standby. Let people know who care that you’re managing your health and this is a normal part of your life. Promise to let them know if there becomes cause for worry or a need for assistance.
3. Reduce input. Focus on one thing at a time. Limit technology as it can make your eyes tired and tax your brain.
4. Wear comfortable clothes, but still get dressed and groomed if possible. You’re not sick; you’re maintaining your health!
5. Move your body. Stretch, move each part of your body if possible. A slow yoga sun salutation can stretch most muscles in the body, raise your heart rate and lift your spirit. It takes energy, but the physical and emotional reward is tremendous. If you don’t feel up to much movement, just move from the bed to the sofa or a chair. Any movement helps!
6. Don’t move your body. Lay down. Close your eyes. Meditate. Make yourself so comfortable that there is nothing else you’d rather be doing in this moment.
7. Nap only if necessary. Maintaining a regular sleep cycle is important, and napping can disrupt nighttime sleep for days to come.
8. Open the drapes or blinds. Let in the daylight. Rest somewhere other than bed if possible.
9. Stick to regular routines for meals and snacking if possible.
10. Do something productive. Journal, learn something new, research a topic, declutter, organize, write a thank you note, or make a healthy dish. Limit it to the level of your energy, and don’t push too hard. Intersperse these activities with doing absolutely nothing.
11. Be responsible and responsive. Know your work and social commitments so you may cancel or postpone them proactively. Or go in to work for an hour or so and do the absolute minimum that can’t be postponed or canceled. Leaving colleagues and friends scrambling to cover for your commitments will understandably cause frustration and resentment on their part, guilt on yours, and more tension in your life.
12. Seize opportunities to pause. An unscheduled hour or two during your work day may be ideal for taking some personal time off from work. This may help reduce the instances of needing to take a full day off from work and the impact to your colleagues.
13. Congratulate yourself for having the strength and good sense to listen to your body’s signals and adapt your schedule to accommodate them!

I wrote about my Pause Approach during a particularly difficult week years ago, and I still refer to the guidelines I created for myself when I’m feeling vulnerable to an MS relapse. It reduces time and energy spent trying to decide what I should do, and it helps me give myself permission to take care of myself. That’s the best I can do for myself as a person living with MS.

*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 at the age of 38. Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/

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2010 – An MS Relapse for the Holidays Part Two – Recovery

By Matt Cavallo

As I sat in an infusion suite chair to treat my holiday relapse, I started to feel really sorry for myself.  I wasn’t sure what I had done to deserve this MS fate. I thought about my young boys and how unfair it was to them that their dad was having another relapse. I thought about the additional burden that this relapse was putting on my wife, having to care for two toddlers on her own.  All this was happening during the holidays, just two months after I had gone through an anterior cervical fusion. To top it off, I was experiencing these uncontrollable emotional outbursts, or PBA as my neurologist called it, which were embarrassing me to the point of not wanting to go out in public.

Then my thoughts changed. I knew at that moment that instead of feeling bad for myself that I was going to have to reach deep down and pull myself together for my wife and kids. My wife is a stay-at- home mom and I am the sole provider, so I knew that if I didn’t get my act together, our quality of life as a family was going to go downhill and fast. I needed a plan.

Steps to Recovery

  1. Be honest – During this relapse, I had convinced myself that it was every factor besides MS. I let the symptoms go on for too long and they were affecting my home and work life. I was going to have to be honest with myself and others about what I was experiencing and that it was related to my MS.
  2. Reduce additional holiday stress – The holidays add stress to an already stressful life. If I had to go food shopping or present shopping, I would go at off hours like late at night to avoid the stress of a crowd. I made lists to prioritize my tasks and would check items off the list. For a list of more ways to reduce holiday stress, check out Angel’s Holiday Hustle Blog.
  3. Gain control – When my emotions began to get the best of me, I would take a break. MS emotional outbursts can come on at any time. A good way to manage emotional outbursts is to remove yourself from the situation, take deep breaths or find a distraction. My favorite distraction is to walk my dog.
  4. Do not take on too much – I have a habit of overdoing. During the 2010 holiday relapse, I learned to enjoy the simple things. Holidays are about spending time with family and friends;try to relax and enjoy that time without overdoing it.
  5. Talk to your doctor – I waited too long to see my doctor. If you are experiencing symptoms, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible.

As the calendar turned to December in 2010, I was feeling like the worst was over. The medicine had run its course. I was feeling back to my normal self. Gone were the emotional outbursts, weakness and fatigue. I was back to normal at work and home life now returned to the joy of watching my boys. I didn’t bother with the stress of trying to compete for deals on Black Friday or hanging Christmas lights from the rafters. Instead, I realized that the true meaning of the holidays was to be there in good spirits for the ones you love. As Thanksgiving 2013 approaches, I am thankful for everyone in my life and continue to enjoy simple stress-free holidays with the ones I love.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!!

References:

https://blog.mymsaa.org/holiday-hustle-and-bustle-tips-for-people-living-with-multiple-sclerosis/

http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/pseudobulbar-affect-multiple-sclerosis

*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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2010 – An MS Relapse for the Holidays Part One – Relapse

By Matt Cavallo

In November of 2010, I was still recovering from neck surgery. My neck had been a problem since 2005, when Transverse Myelitis made my spine swell up. The swelling pushed my vertebrae and discs out of alignment. Eventually, just the stress of daily activities caused a piece of vertebrae to fracture causing severe stenosis of the spine. My neurologist told me that if I didn’t consider surgery that there was a pretty good chance that I might become quadriplegic.

I worked for a Neuroscience clinic at the time and was friends with the neurologists at the clinic. I had them each independently look at my MRI films. All of them agreed with my neurologist- surgery was inevitable. I had my cervical spinal fusion surgery in early September of 2010.  In order to prepare for the surgery, I had to stop taking my MS medicine.  I was also instructed to stay off my medication after the surgery while my body was recovering.  During my recovery period, I became less concerned with getting back on my medication and continuing treatment. I had hit my breaking point, and I just didn’t feel like fighting anymore.

As the calendar approached Thanksgiving, I started to become symptomatic. I hadn’t been on any MS treatment for ninety days and was noticing increased fatigue and weakness. At the time, I attributed my symptoms to working fulltime while enrolled in a Master’s program along with raising two boys, ages three and one, who weren’t exactly allowing for a full night’s sleep.

While the weakness and fatigue were troubling, I also started experiencing uncontrollable mood swings. I would break into hysterical laughter at inappropriate times and then break down and start crying and become inconsolable. I am not a person who typically shows intense emotion, so these kinds of outbursts were completely out of character for me.

Still, I didn’t think that anything was seriously wrong with me. I thought that the lack of sleep with a teething one-year old coupled with my ongoing recovery from spinal cord surgery was why my emotions wer running rampant. Then I started forgetting tasks at work that I typically would complete automatically. I was also dragging my leg and having problems with vision in my right eye.

During the week of Thanksgiving, the clinic was slow. The nurses had become worried about me. The day before Thanksgiving, we had very few patients and my practice manager called my neurologist and got me an order for an MRI. I was resistant. I attributed my symptoms to the stress that I was experiencing at work and at home, saying that having to prepare Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow was the cherry on top of the cake. Still, she persisted and took me over to radiology at the hospital and got me a follow up appointment with my neurologist the following Monday.

My MRI studies came back with my lesions glowing like lights on a Christmas tree. I was defeated. When was MS going to let up? Now, I had to tell my wife on the day before Thanksgiving that I was having yet another relapse. However, when I talked to her about it, instead of crying, I started to laugh uncontrollably. During Thanksgiving dinner with her family, I was having emotional outbursts and crying about how beautiful the Turkey and potatoes looked. After dinner, Jocelyn talked to me and she wanted me to talk to my neurologist about my emotions, along with my other symptoms.

That following Monday, I found myself in the familiar chair of my neurologist’s office. He confirmed that I was having a relapse. He prescribed three days’ IV Solu-medrol to help with the exacerbation. I told the doctor that I was having these weird emotional outbursts and was concerned that the IV steroids would further complicate my already emotionally unstable state.

He told me that it sounded like I was having something called Pseudobulbar affect or PBA. According to a Healthline article, “Pseudobulbar affect (PBA) is a condition in which you suddenly start to laugh or cry. The reaction isn’t triggered by anything—like a funny joke or sad movie. You just burst into laughter or tears without any real cause, and you can’t stop laughing or crying.” He wanted to stay on course with the treatment because the PBA seemed to be related to my MS relapse, but to call him if I started to feel out of control.

Tune in for my next blog to find out how I was able to recover from my holiday relapse and strategies I used to gain control of my emotions and stress levels.

Reference:

http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/pseudobulbar-affect-multiple-sclerosis

*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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