Multiple Sclerosis: Which specialists do you need to see?
Published Nov 17, 2023 • By Somya Pokharna
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) can exert a profound and enduring influence on various facets of a person’s life. Establishing and remaining in contact with a diverse team of specialists is essential to guarantee comprehensive care and uphold a good quality of life.
So, who exactly are these specialists? How do they contribute to ensure holistic care?
Unravel all the answers in this article!
Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects the brain and spinal cord and is a lifelong condition that may range from mild to causing significant disability. Typically diagnosed in individuals in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, MS can manifest at any age, with a higher prevalence in women. Among younger adults, MS stands out as one of the leading causes of disability.
Which specialists do you need to consult during multiple sclerosis treatment?
MS can lead to a wide range of complications, and it is advisable to consult various specialists as part of the treatment plan to effectively address this chronic condition and enhance overall quality of life.
Primary Care Physician/General Practitioners
A primary care physician (PCP) or general practitioner (GP) plays a crucial role in managing overall health, preventive care, and coordinating with specialists. They monitor your MS, catching symptoms or progression early. Often trained in internal or family medicine, they are the initial contact for health concerns, guiding improvements, and conducting annual exams. They possess your medical history, manage general conditions, order preventive tests, and are the gateway to other doctors, referring to and coordinating with specialists when needed, making them vital for long-term health management and early detection of MS symptoms during routine visits.
A neurologist specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the nervous system. They play a central role in MS care, determining the most suitable disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) to slow down disease progression and manage relapses.
Neurologists also prescribe medications to address various MS symptoms, such as spasticity, pain, fatigue, bowel/bladder issues, sexual dysfunction, weakness, numbness, and walking difficulties. They use imaging techniques like CT scans, MRIs, and EEGs to assess damage to the brain and spinal cord. The severity of MS symptoms varies, and neurologists provide ongoing care, adjusting treatments based on disease progression. Advanced practice professionals, including nurses and physician assistants, may work alongside neurologists to enhance patient care.
A neuropsychiatrist focuses on assessing and addressing behavioral and cognitive challenges associated with conditions impacting the brain. Common cognitive problems in MS include issues with memory and mental processing speed. Neuropsychiatrists conduct cognitive tests to assist individuals with MS in recognizing their limitations.
Treatment strategies may involve engaging in cognitive exercises and learning techniques to offset memory difficulties.
An ophthalmologist monitors visual changes associated with MS, such as blurry vision, eye pain, double vision, blind spots, difficulty focusing and involuntary eye movements. Neuro-ophthalmologists, specializing in nervous system-related eye problems, are crucial in MS cases, particularly for optic neuritis—an inflammation of the optic nerve common in MS. Temporary blindness, often resulting from optic neuritis, typically improves within weeks.
Urologist or Gynecologist
Multiple sclerosis (MS) can impact bladder, bowel, and sexual function, necessitating consultation with specialists such as urologists or gynecologists for women.
Common urinary problems associated with MS include urgency, nocturia, frequent daytime urination, and overactive bladder or incontinence. For individuals dealing with bladder symptoms like these, seeking assistance from a urologist is advisable. It is typically necessary to obtain a referral from a neurologist to consult a urologist.
A physiatrist, or a physician specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation, undergoes specialized training in rehab medicine. Their expertise lies in addressing disabilities associated with the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord, as well as nerves, bones, and muscles. Their primary goal is to enhance overall physical function, improve quality of life, and alleviate pain for individuals with disabilities. If you experience restricted physical functioning or require assistance with pain management, it is advisable to seek a referral to a physiatrist to enhance your independence and overall well-being.
Physiotherapists are healthcare professionals with expertise in helping individuals with mobility, enhancing range of motion, and addressing issues such as pain, stiffness, and discomfort. They develop a safe exercise program that’s custom-made for your needs. If you're experiencing difficulties related to muscle weakness, walking, or limited movement, engaging in physical therapy might offer assistance.
Mental Health Professional
Many people living with MS encounter stress and mood-related challenges, such as depression and anxiety. Prioritizing your mental health is crucial, and these issues are manageable with the assistance of mental health professionals. Additionally, participating in support groups may provide valuable help.
Occupational therapists specialize in assisting individuals, especially those with MS, to enhance their independence in daily activities. They provide strategies, tools, and training for tasks such as dressing, cooking, household chores, and work or leisure activities. They also offer guidance on problem-solving and task management skills. Additionally, occupational therapy involves the use of adaptive devices, like tub benches, to help patients maintain independence in activities of daily living.
Speech-language pathologists specialize in treating communication and swallowing disorders. For individuals with MS, these professionals address issues such as dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) resulting from muscle weakness and nerve damage. Dysarthria is another common condition in MS which causes speech problems like slurring, abnormal pauses, and decreased volume.
A nutritious diet is crucial for everyone, especially for those with MS. Maintaining a healthy weight and overall well-being is key. A study revealed that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is linked to reduced MS-related disability. Nutritionists play a vital role in educating individuals about the impact of diet on health, guiding healthy eating choices, and assisting in weight management. They ensure a proper balance of essential vitamins and nutrients, optimizing the body's function and well-being.
Alternative medicine providers
To effectively address the complex challenges of MS, it is advisable to consult a range of specialists, including a primary care physician, neurologist, neuropsychiatrist, ophthalmologist, urologist or gynecologist, physiatrist, physiotherapist, mental health professional, occupational therapist, speech-language pathologist, nutritionist, and alternative medicine providers.
Collaboration among these specialists is crucial for a comprehensive treatment strategy, emphasizing early detection, personalized care, and enhancing the overall quality of life for individuals with MS.
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MS Doctors: The MS Treatment Specialists on Your Care Team, WebMD
Multiple sclerosis, NHS
Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Johns Hopkins Medicine
Team MS: The Practitioners You Need Most, Health Central
The role of an MS specialist and how to find one, Medical News Today
What Specialists Should Be Part of an MS Healthcare Team? MultipleSclerosis.net
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