MS Symptoms and Their Potential Impact at Work
While MS has the potential to cause several different symptoms, the specific symptoms each person experiences vary greatly. Medications are available to treat many MS symptoms, and these may include over-the-counter drugs as well as prescribed medications. Diet and exercise may also be helpful with managing certain symptoms. All treatments or changes in diet or exercise should only be done under the guidance of a qualified physician.
MS symptoms are often compounded by extreme fatigue, which may be worse in the afternoon, sometimes relating to a rise in body temperature. Some symptoms may be temporarily increased by heat intolerance – a classic MS tendency, where a rise in temperature (internally or externally) causes a person to feel much worse. Keeping cool through air-conditioning or various cooling devices, such as those offered by MSAA’s Cooling Equipment Distribution Program, may be helpful for people with heatsensitive MS.
When recovering from a symptom flare-up or learning to cope with a change in mobility, rehabilitation through physical therapy and occupational therapy can be of great value. Speech therapy, therapeutic exercise, and certain medical devices may also be useful in dealing with the symptoms of MS. Some of those who have a physically demanding or highly stressful job may choose to make a career change, in which case vocational training is helpful.
When a family member receives an MS diagnosis, it can disrupt the roles and dynamics in a family system. Participating in some type of counseling program can help family members adjust to the new realities of living with MS. People react differently to the diagnosis and seeking professional assistance helps to identify the concerns and needs of those involved.
Unfortunately, anxiety and depression can be a part of MS. While feeling shame about emotional issues or needing help is not unusual, people may be comforted to know that almost everyone experiences such issues at one time or another; that these emotions are often beyond our control; and that no one needs to feel ashamed.
During challenging times, increasing support and developing new coping strategies are essential. Counseling services are confidential and can provide the help you may need. If you have other concerns, you can always address them with your neurologist, another trusted physician, or even ask questions of a mental health provider.
Individuals with MS may experience one or more of the following common symptoms:
- Physical symptoms include: balance problems; bladder dysfunction; bowel problems; muscle spasticity (stiffness); sexual dysfunction; speech difficulties; swallowing disorders; tremor; as well as walking and mobility issues.
- Emotional, mental, and psychological symptoms include*: anxiety; cognitive changes; depression; and pseudobulbar affect (PBA – a neurologic effect characterized by sudden, uncontrollable expressions of laughter or crying without an apparent trigger).
- “Invisible” symptoms include: dizziness/vertigo; fatigue; numbness; pain; sleep issues; Uhthoff’s syndrome (the temporary appearance of symptoms resulting from heat stress); visual disorders; and weakness.
A neurologist helps individuals to identify and manage their symptoms. However, people may not know what types of accommodations are best suited to them in light of the symptoms they are contending with in their daily life. This is when consulting with an occupational therapist may be helpful to discuss the types of accommodations that may be requested in the workplace.
To follow are examples of possible workplace accommodations:
- If fatigue sets in later in the day, a request to adjust one’s work schedule to begin the workday earlier may be helpful in maintaining productivity.
- Physical changes in balance, dizziness, or weakness could indicate a need to request closer parking and/or easier access to the building.
- Bladder or bowel incontinence may indicate a need to be in a work area that is located closer to a restroom; this may also identify the need for more frequent restroom breaks.
- Changes in cognition (i.e. focus) can be impacted by noise and other distractions; requesting a workspace away from a high volume of activity and noise can increase the ability to focus.
* Please note that depression and anxiety can occur more often with MS. For some, severe depression, substance abuse, and social isolation from living alone are additional risks. Anyone experiencing these types of symptoms, or care partners who might suspect this of their loved one with MS, should immediately contact their physician or therapist. These types of symptoms are treatable. When untreated, such symptoms can potentially increase the risk of suicide. If such thoughts are suspected, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained counselors are available 24 hours per day, seven days per week, at the following toll-free number: (800) 273-TALK (8255). Information may also be found on their website at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org