The first doctor you see when you have symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) is probably your primary care doctor. But if your primary care doctor suspects you have MS, you will most likely see a neurologist, too. After getting a diagnosis, you may rely on a team of professionals to help you manage your condition, with your neurologist as the team captain.
If you get your MS care at a major medical center, your team may all be at the same location. Another option is to use individual practitioners in your community. You may not need all the team members all the time, but it's nice to know they are there when you do need them. Here are some of the medical professionals who will probably be working with you on your care.
Your neurologist is a medical specialist who treats diseases of the nervous system, including MS. In most cases, your neurologist will order tests, prescribe treatments and determine a care plan when you have an MS attack. You can still see your primary care doctor for other health concerns, but you will probably go to your neurologist for problems related to MS.
MS Nurse or Nurse Practitioner
Think of your nurse as the team manager. Your nurse may be the first person you talk to when you have a problem or question related to MS. Your nurse can help you with MS education, answer questions about medications, schedule you to see other members of the team, and be your primary MS care coordinator. In short, your nurse can be the glue that keeps everything together.
A neuropsychologist is a mental health professional who is specially trained to evaluate and treat problems like short-term memory loss and difficulty with concentration, focusing or information processing. These problems are part of an MS symptom called cognitive dysfunction. This professional could be an important member of your team because cognitive dysfunction affects about half of all people with MS at some time.
An unpredictable disease like MS affects your whole family and can upset your work and financial situation. Your social worker is the professional who can counsel you on financial resources like disability or supplemental security income, and help you find community resources like homecare assistance.
Physical or Occupational Therapist
You may need this professional if and when your MS flares up, or if you have a more advanced form of MS that causes loss of muscle strength, coordination, balance, or flexibility. Your physical therapist may help you deal with these symptoms through strengthening and flexibility exercises or with the use of an assistive device. An occupational therapist can show you how to perform daily tasks at work or at home more easily.
You may need this medical specialist if you have problems with your bladder or sex life. Urinary frequency and urgency are both very common among both men and women with MS. Erectile dysfunction may be a problem in some men with MS. A urologist can treat most of these problems.
Having a lifelong disease like MS that comes and goes unpredictably can get you down emotionally and create stress at home and at work. Individual or family counseling with this team member can help you cope with such issues as well as deal with anxiety, fear or anger.
Other Possible Team Members
A registered dietitian can help you map out a better diet if you're not getting the nutrition you need. You may need to see a speech pathologist if MS affects your ability to speak or swallow. An orthotist might join your team if you need to be fitted for an assistive device, like a brace.
Last but not least, another very important member of the team is you. To manage your disease as well as you can, learn about MS and work with all your team members. The good news is that with proper management most people with MS do not become severely disabled and do have a rich and long life.
MS is a disease that is best managed with a team approach.
Your neurologist will likely be the captain of the team and will work closely with your primary care doctor to keep you healthy.
Which other members you have on your team depends on your MS symptoms. You may also need to include professionals to manage physical, mental and social issues.
The best way to mange MS is to educate yourself about your disease, take an active role in your treatment, and work closely with all members of your healthcare team.