You’ve been diagnosed with MS – what now?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects more than 2.5 million people worldwide.

MS Australia defines it as a lifelong, chronic illness with unpredictable severity and specific symptoms that affect the central nervous system (the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves).

The condition is not yet curable, but huge strides are being made by medical scientists worldwide to effectively control and manage the symptoms and prevent the illness from progressing.

Remember that while MS may disrupt your daily activities or change your life in many ways, it does not dictate who you are. With the help of effective medication, physiotherapy and a host of resources, many people with MS continue an active lifestyle, working, enjoying family life and taking part in their favourite activities.

If you have been diagnosed with MS, you and your loved ones will probably experience many emotions such as fear, anger and denial. With this illness, it is important to get support to cope with any changes that may occur.

In the words of Alan Osmond (former member of the Osmond brothers singing group) who commented "I may have MS, but MS does not have me," here are three tips to handle your diagnosis:

- Knowledge is power, so be proactive and find out as much as you can about the condition. Fortunately, there are plenty of MS organisations, support groups and online resources that provide information, support and help with all aspects of the disease to the estimated 23,000+ people in Australia living with the illness.

- Next, communicate openly how you are feeling physically and emotionally, as your loved ones don’t necessarily know how the condition is affecting you, and their way of coping may differ from yours. Since symptoms differ from person to person, tell them when you are experiencing MS-related problems. For example, once they know how MS affects you, they might find other family activities that are less physically demanding or time consuming.

- Make sure you are comfortable with your doctor and that you feel confident about their expertise and support. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, such as what type of MS you have, whether you’ll experience new, worsening symptoms, what drugs/treatment are recommended and how to know when they are effective – as well as their side effects, and how to handle them. Also ask about local support groups and what you can do to manage your symptoms.