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Five things newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis patients should know

Medication, lifestyle, support. University of Minnesota Health Neurologist Andrew Smith, MD, shares helpful tips for multiple sclerosis patients.
Newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis (MS) patients are not alone. The University of Minnesota Health MS treatment program seeks to connect patients with therapies, resources and strategies so they can manage their disease and continue living a healthy life.

A multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis can be a scary, life-altering event—but there are plenty of resources available for newly diagnosed patients who are looking for answers or help.

That’s the message Neurologist Andrew Smith, MD, shares with the men and women he sees through the University of Minnesota Health Multiple Sclerosis program. Smith ensures that patients are equipped with the best resources, treatment plans and information possible to help manage their multiple sclerosis.

We’ve asked Smith to share five insights and tips for newly diagnosed patients.

MS is a treatable disease.

Currently, there are over 15 disease-modifying therapies and treatments for multiple sclerosis. That number is set to increase over the next few years as new medications come to market. Gone are the days when injectable therapies were the only option for MS patients. Evidence suggests that treatment with highly effective medications early in the progression of the disease could lead to better long-term outcomes for people.

Because of the recent advancements, it’s important to regularly review your treatment strategy with your neurologist, Smith said.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Living a healthy lifestyle is critical for managing and controlling multiple sclerosis. Because MS causes damage over time to the layer of myelin that protects brain cells and nerves, the disease “ages” the brain, leading to deterioration that can affect a person in many different ways. A poor diet, lack of exercise, and smoking may further accelerate the effects of the disease, leading to additional problems over long periods of time.

Smith cautions people to be wary of fad diets marketed as helpful for MS patients. While most of these diets are not harmful, the evidence does not suggest any of them are beneficial at reducing long-term disability.

Remember that resources are available.

Newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis patients are not alone in their treatment, Smith said. University of Minnesota Health offers a wealth of resources through its multiple sclerosis program, which employs specialists at three locations in the Twin Cities region. 

“We have everything MS patients need to effectively manage their disease,” Smith said. Patients can also call the program and talk with a staff member about their symptoms. Outside of the University of Minnesota Health system, Smith said the Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society also serves as an excellent resource for patients.

Learn more about our neurology services.

Be comfortable with your treatment team.

To make sure you’re properly equipped for your multiple sclerosis, it’s important to develop a comfortable relationship with your physician and care team, Smith said.

Because patients build a lifelong relationship with their care team, they need to work effectively with their providers, follow the prescribed treatment approach and ask questions at every step of the way, Smith added. 

“We take a team approach between the patient, the physician and our nurses so we can identify the problems are and get to the root cause of any symptoms,” he said.

Meet multiple sclerosis care coordinator Sandy Lidberg, RN, MSCN.

Don’t let it control your life

Multiple sclerosis patients often fear the perceived stigma of the disease and think it will destroy their lives, Smith said. 

People living with MS should view it as a treatable medical condition and not as a debilitating, untreatable illness. Patients diagnosed with MS today are able to raise families, work and lead relatively normal lifestyles. Some MS patients have even trained to run marathons after their diagnosis.

“To achieve the best outcome, controlling the disease is critical. It’s important to take your MS medication and maintain a healthy lifestyle,” Smith said. “People who follow through with those two goals are rewarded with greatly improved long-term outcomes.”