An MS Diagnosis—What Does It Mean? Can Marijuana Help

Multiple-Sclerosis-MS-Infographic

An MS Diagnosis—What Does It Mean? Can Marijuana Help

Contributed by:

 Rebecca Evans
>>>> @GeriatricNursing.org

Can Marijuana Help MS Multiple Sclerosis

When it comes to multiple sclerosis, getting a diagnosis can often be a long, grueling process—both for the patient and their families. There are lots of tests, often some false diagnoses of other problems, and all told, the process can often take months or years. The stress of the whole process can be a bit maddening, truth told.

 

So by the time you get a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, it can feel like you’ve already been through the whole ringer. But let’s say you’ve finally gotten that diagnosis. “Multiple Sclerosis,” says the doctor. If you haven’t done much reading on the subject, those two words might scare you.

 

So let’s take some time to look more closely at what that diagnosis actually means.

Diagnosing Multiple Sclerosis

 

Because multiple sclerosis is most often diagnosed through a process of elimination that rules out other neurological disorders and diseases first, disorders and diseases which may cause the same symptoms, it can a long time to get to MS.

 

For most patients, though, the process starts with a clinical office evaluation, which will includes lots of questions (which get at your medical history) and tests (which can help point doctors toward a neurological disorder). For instance, perhaps your doctor scraped the bottom of your foot to test your reaction. If your big toe went up, rather than down, that’s called the Babinski sign, and is a signal of a neurological disorder. Other things the doctor might look for? Signs of imbalance or coordination when walking, discoloration of your optic nerve (as the result of inflammation in your eye), hyper reflexes—the list goes on and on, and are all things doctors look for as signs of neurological issues.

 

Assuming the doctors have seen some of those neurological pointers, they’ll likely prescribe more tests, to help narrow down what is causing those symptoms. For instance, diseases such as Lyme disease or fibromyalgia can mimic multiple sclerosis, as they have similar neurological symptoms. Doctors will want to rule those other diseases out, so they’ll prescribe tests, such as MRIs, spinal taps, and more.

 

Among other things, they’ll be looking for signs of tumors. MRIs can help there, though tumors, MS lesions, and other spots that might show up on a brain or spinal MRI may all look similar enough to cause confusion. Thus more tests may be called for.

 

No matter what tests are run, however, the disease’s name should offer an important clue in how it is diagnosed. In particular, in order to be diagnosed as multiple sclerosis, there need to be signs of multiple symptoms in multiple parts of the nervous system over multiple periods of time—that’s what helps differentiate MS from other neurological disorders.

So a patient may first show sensory and motor issues with, say, their left arm and left leg. While that would fit the multiple parts of the nervous system criteria, that would only count as an attack over one period of time unless there was a period of time in which there were no symptoms and then symptoms showed up again. When symptoms showed up again (whether in the same parts of the nervous system or elsewhere), the doctors might more clearly be able to make a multiple sclerosis diagnosis.

 

Even then, though, a neurologist may opt to holding off on a diagnosis until they are quite definite that something else isn’t causing the symptoms.

 

So if you’re somewhere in that waiting game part of the diagnosis, where no one has yet been able to tell you you have MS (but neither have they been able to tell you you don’t), try to be patient. A diagnosis can take time.

 

While you go through the rigamarole of all the tests, there are still steps you can do to preserve your own health. Start by reducing stress as you can, making sure you exercise, sleep and eat well, all the things you would normally do if trying to live a healthy life, as all those same things also can help you manage MS.

 

Getting The Actual MS Diagnosis

 

Plenty of people think getting an MS diagnosis is a life-ending diagnosis. It is not. Nor does it mean you’ll be stuck in a wheelchair. Yes, it can be a frightening diagnosis—but it can be far less frightening if you have good information, like what I’m sharing with you here.

 

Let’s address some of the most common misconceptions:

 

  • MS is not fatal. While some patients die of complications from MS (such as kidney failure as a result of a urinary tract infection, for instance), MS itself is not fatal.
  • While there is no cure, there are lots of great treatment methods that can help slow the progression of the disease and help limit the frequency of relapses, as well as impact the painfulness of some of the symptoms.
  • MS is not congenital. While there is now believed to be some genetic factor to MS, it is not passed directly. Nor is it contagious.
  • MS patients don’t all end up in wheelchairs. Even in the 1980’s, when we knew far less about MS and treatment, only 1 in 4 (25%) or fewer patients ended up in a wheelchair.

 

What Should You Do With An MS Diagnosis?

 

I have a few recommendations. Start by taking great care of yourself. All of the things that can help you stay healthier in everyday normal life, like exercising, getting enough sleep, limiting your stress, and eating well? Also help with MS treatment.

 

Additionally, I recommend the following:

 

  • Keep a symptom journal. If you track your symptoms as they rise and fall, you may start to see patterns, as well as get a better idea for what increases your inflammation as well as what decreases it. I recommend a 12-month calendar, which allows you to see the bigger picture more easily, and to share what you find with your doctors as they help you develop a treatment plan.
  • Similarly, make sure your doctors know their stuff. Your neurologist should have experience with other MS patients, or consider finding a MS doctor. Similarly, other doctors you see (such as a physical therapist, for instance) should have experience with MS so that they can better help you and make better treatment plans with your full medical history in mind.
  • Build up your own knowledge base. Now, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the information out there, so start with one trusted resource and go from there. I recommend the National MS Society and other nationwide groups to start, but consider building up a peer group of other MS patients, or seek out people who have gone through what you are going through. Just be careful who you choose to listen to online, as there will always be sources of misinformation out there.
  • And do what you can to keep yourself healthy! Because MS is an autoimmune disorder, a compromised immune system (such as when you’re sick) can have major ramifications. So keep up on your healthy person routine—get plenty of sleep, eat well, exercise regularly, and limit your stress. That’s one of the best ways to help manage your MS!
  • Lastly, remember that this is still your body, and you do still have control of it. Take care of yourself, don’t expect a magic fix, and you may be surprised at how well you can learn to manage your MS. Because there is no cure, your goal instead should be to stay healthy, avoid new attacks or relapses, and prevent disability.

 

Medical Marijuana and Multiple Sclerossis

There is also much to be said about the benefits of medical marijuana for multiple sclerosis (MS) sufferers. For those affected by MS, marijuana can be an effective treatment on many levels. For starters, cannabis is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, which has been used for thousands of years by alchemists, herbalists, and physicians throughout the world. In fact, medical marijuana’s efficacy in reducing MS-related inflammation has been well-researched and resulted in the world’s first market-approved pharmaceutical, Sativex, based on that research.

Another benefit of cannabis is its efficacy as a pain analgesic. This not only relates to its ability to reduce pain associated with conditions, such as MS, migraines, and a variety of other debilitating illnesses and/or injuries, as well as mental health issues, but also medical marijuana’s capacity to reduce a sufferer’s immune response, as well as its ability to reduce musculoskeletal pain associated with frequent muscle spasticity and spasms. Thus, this association also demonstrates the effectiveness of marijuana as an antispasmodic.

Depression is also a common issue among MS and other chronic pain sufferers. The use of cannabis for combating mental health issues has produced mixed results. In many cases, it depends on the individual involved and their response to cannabinoids. Moreover, the endocannabinoid system is believed to play a significant role in mood regulation and affects the user’s level of satisfaction. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that certain genetic variations in the CB1-receptors render some individuals more susceptible to the mood-elevating effects of medical marijuana.

 

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