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In the Spotlight

Self-Management and Multiple Sclerosis

By Aaron Turner, PhD and Jodie K. Haselkorn, MD, MPH

The Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence (MSCoE) promote a self-management practice. This approach is traditional because the health care provider stays involved with the care, diagnosis, treatment, and education to address the problems associated with Multiple Sclerosis. Self-management recognizes some key things. Things like good treatment and education are only beneficial if the person can link the treatment into their every day life. To successfully manage a disease like Multiple Sclerosis, the person needs to receive support. This support aids them in becoming an active partner in their health care.

People with Multiple Sclerosis are often faced with the need to manage many personal health issues all at once. These health problems can occur in the setting of daily activities of life. For example you may face challenges at work, raising a family, involvement with an extended family and community concerns. For a person with Multiple Sclerosis a lot of changes can happen all at once. Self-management recognizes that changes in behavior are not easy to make. To maintain these changes over a long period of time requires a good support system. This approach also recognizes that "small changes" over time have a large impact on a person's health.

Some ideas for self-management include deciding the most important change to work on. It may be to start an exercise program to help manage fatigue. Self-management guidelines move this from an idea to a specific goal. The goal is you may plan to "walk one-half mile three times a week right after work". A self-management plan will also identify a back-up plan (in case there is a problem). For example "when it is raining, I will go to the gym or bicycle indoors." A key aspect of self-management is to evaluate your level of confidence to reach your goal. If you are not sure the goal can be reached then, the goal may need to be changed; or additional support provided. Planned follow up is helpful to identify things that may keep you from reaching a goal. Plan to celebrate success. You also may need to adjust prior goals or make new ones with the help of your support system.

Many benefits of health practices that promote well-being or decrease chronic illnesses also benefit Multiple Sclerosis. For instance, smoking has been linked with an increased risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis. It has also been linked to a more severe course of the disease Stopping smoking may not only improve overall health, but also improve Multiple Sclerosis. Smoking may also complicate other problems people with Multiple Sclerosis face. Things like decreased lung capacity, fatigue, and healing of an ulcer may be worse with smoking. An exercise program has been shown to have a positive effect on Multiple Sclerosis. It improves the fatigue related to Multiple Sclerosis. Exercise also can promote overall health and well-being. A healthy diet and reduced alcohol intake may improve mobility and quality of life in Multiple Sclerosis.

The Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence team is able to work with you on your goals and to team up with other clinical services. We can also work through My HealtheVet for the support you need to live well with your Multiple Sclerosis.

Learn More

Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence - Frequently Asked Questions

Multiple Sclerosis (Medline Plus)

Esclerosis Múltiple (Medline Plus) (en Español)

Updated/Reviewed: January 13, 2016