Battling Multiple Sclerosis
One of the most difficult diseases to diagnose is the autoimmune disorder multiple sclerosis (MS). Symptoms include loss of muscle coordination, impaired vision, numbness or tingling sensations in the arms or legs, fatigue and incontinence. These symptoms can last for days or even months, and come and go without any pattern.
Fourteen years ago, Nancy Davis began suffering numbness every time she put her head forward, but a neurologist told her it was nothing serious. “It wasn’t painful, it was just very peculiar,” she says. “Seven years later, I was skiing in Aspen, and I fell. Three days later, I had no feeling in my entire right hand. Then three days later I had no feeling in all of my left hand. Then three days later I lost the feeling in my stomach.”
After a number of MRIs and tests, doctors explained that she had MS. “He said, ‘There’s nothing we can do to help this disease. You’ll probably be able to operate the remote control on your TV set,’” Nancy says. “I came to him at 33, I have three kids, and all of a sudden this guy just took my life away.”
Seven years after her initial diagnosis, she is doing well and is a world-renowned advocate for the disease. To help find a cure, Nancy founded the Center Without Walls, an organization that funds research to combat MS. She also wrote a book, “Lean on Me,” to help empower people who suffer life-altering or life-threatening diseases. “If you have a really bad attitude, and you really feel sorry for yourself, you will not do well,” she says. “If you go out there, you do all the research, you live your life, you have a much better chance at having a great life. Attitude is everything.”
Debbie, 34, began feeling tingling sensations on the side of her face several years ago. Recently, she was diagnosed with MS and is so frightened by the diagnosis, she hasn’t even told her children. “I was terrified,” she says. “One of my biggest fears is not being able to walk and being in a wheelchair. I don’t know how to tell [my children] that this is going on. I’m scared for them, and I don’t want them to worry.”
Debbie meets with Nancy to talk about her disease, struggles and fears. Nancy gives her a journal so she can write down all of her thoughts and concerns. “When you can identify everything you’re afraid of and look at it, it’s easier to overcome your fears,” Nancy says. “You owe it to yourself to embrace change. Your life is never going to be the same as it was before, but it might be better.”
Multiple sclerosis expert neurologist Dr. Ari Green explains that a number of drugs are now used to treat MS. “We refer to them as the ABC drugs,” Dr. Green says. “They are all largely injectable medications that patients take, and what they can do is help turn the thermostat down on the inflammation, to reduce the amount of inflammation that’s going on in a patient’s brain. And that’s the goal of the therapy, to prevent the inflammation and the injury early so that we can make a difference over the long term.”
When Nancy was diagnosed with MS seven years ago, the drugs were not readily available, so she turned to homeopathic medicine. “I needed to figure out how to get better in light that there was nothing else,” she says. “I went the homeopathic route, which is not necessarily right for everybody else, but it has worked for me. Whenever I have an attack, I go to a homeopathic doctor, and they give me supplements of what my body seems to be lacking.” 5. Get Tested: Without the right tests, you may not get the correct diagnosis. Make sure to get tested for all your symptoms so your doctors can treat you as thoroughly as possible. 6. See a Specialist: All doctors are not created equal. “A lot of us go into training into certain fields where we become specialists on nothing other than [certain types of] problems,” Dr. Travis says.
The Doctors send Debbie to integrative medicine physician Dr. Joseph Sciabbarrasi for holistic treatment. Dr. Sciabbarrasi uses natural remedies and works hand-in-hand with more traditional doctors. He recommends that Debbie change her diet and eat organic foods so she will reduce the amount of pesticides, hormones and metals that may be in the food, and that she eat fish and take fish oil supplements. He also gives Debbie intravenous supplements of vitamin C.
In addition to the change of diet, Dr. Sciabbarrasi explains that exercise, in moderation, is important for Debbie. “You want to be careful about generating too much body heat, so saunas are not a good idea for you. Hot tubs are not a good idea for you,” he says, “because that can actually bring about flares.”
“It was great,” Debbie says. “It was nice to learn about the different ways you can treat it and what you can change in your everyday life to make things better and easier.”
No More Misdiagnoses
The wrong diagnosis can be extremely frustrating. The Doctors give you the top tips for preventing a misdiagnosis!
1. Don’t Ignore Symptoms: By ignoring certain symptoms, you may be ignoring something that is preventable or treatable. “Numbness or tingling should never be ignored,” Dr. Jim says.
“If you ignore your symptoms and blame it on hypochondria, you might be doing yourself a disservice,” Dr. Travis says.
2. Get a Second Opinion: “You have to talk to more than one doctor if you don’t get an initial diagnosis,” Dr. Travis says. “Getting a second opinion is always smart. There’s more than one way to treat each and every illness that we deal with in medicine. What’s right for you may not be right for [someone else].”
3. Try a Proven Alternative Therapy: Alternative therapies, such as holistic and homeopathic medicines, can promote good health by using natural medications, a change of diet and exercise. But it is important to do your research about any therapy you choose. “Don’t believe everything you hear from every source,” Dr. Travis says. “There are going to be a lot of treatments thrown at [you] that may not be proven, that may cost a lot of money. A lot of people will prey upon [someone who has been newly diagnosed] to make money, and you just want to go with things that work for you and explore all your options.”
4. Avoid Self-Diagnosis: “[Doctors] are guilty of it, because of course, we come down with symptoms, and we always try to treat ourselves, and sometimes it takes someone else examining you, particularly if you’re not a doctor,” Dr. Travis says. “It’s hard for the doctor to become a patient, but it’s even harder for a patient to play doctor.”
“It’s why, quite frankly, as physicians we spend a decade of our life training, because there are always things that mimic one thing,” Dr. Travis adds. “A yeast infection is very similar to bacterial vaginosis.”
7. Be the C.E.O. of Your Health: Know your health history, doctors’ contact information and what you need to stay healthy. Having medical I.D. cards, such as “My Very Necessary Medical I.D. Cards,” on hand can be extremely helpful, as well. “You know who loves this? The E.R. doctors,” Dr. Travis says. “Someone comes in in a coma, and I don’t know a thing about their medical history. If this is in their wallet or keychain, I instantly know their allergies, their conditions, and I can look up their medications. This is truly something that everyone should consider obtaining.”
5. Get Tested: Without the right tests, you may not get the correct diagnosis. Make sure to get tested for all your symptoms so your doctors can treat you as thoroughly as possible.
6. See a Specialist: All doctors are not created equal. “A lot of us go into training into certain fields where we become specialists on nothing other than [certain types of] problems,” Dr. Travis says.