Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory condition of the central nervous system. The disorder produces a broad range of symptoms, including fatigue and poor muscle coordination, which can make exercise daunting. Yet, research shows that in addition to prescription-based approaches, complementary therapies such as exercise may help to alleviate symptoms and minimize the risk of secondary conditions. Discover more about the relationship between exercise and MS below.
How Does Exercise Help MS?
Exercise has been shown to improve a number of MS symptoms. In addition to promoting better overall health, embarking on an aerobic fitness routine has helped people with MS improve strength and cardiovascular fitness, maintain better bladder and bowel function, and reduce fatigue and depression. Additionally, exercise program participants have reported a more positive attitude and increased social activity.
What’s the Best Type of Exercise for MS?
While light to moderate activity can help to control MS symptoms, any activity that’s too strenuous can have the opposite effect, exacerbating issues like fatigue and increased risk for injury. It’s, therefore, a good idea to work with a professional, such as a physical therapist, before beginning any new exercise routine.
Light activities like gardening, low-impact aerobic exercises, stretching, and progressive strength training are well-suited for many people with MS. Additionally, water-based exercises are especially ideal. Water provides buoyancy, enabling participants to move in ways they may not be able to on land while eliminating the risk of fall injuries. Plus, accessories like flotation vests and pool noodles can be implemented to maintain safety. Finally, the water keeps participants cool, thereby reducing the risk of overheating which can cause MS symptoms to flare.
If you’re interested in pursuing a fitness program to help manage your MS symptoms, be sure to work with your care providers to find an approach that will best suit you.
While migraines have left the medical community puzzled for many years, experts are establishing links among certain conditions which may leave individuals predisposed to them. In specific, recent studies indicated that patients with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) are at least three times as likely to experience migraines, compared to people who do not have the disease. While a concrete explanation for the link has yet to be established, there are some theories which researchers have speculated on.
Reasons for Migraines & MS
One possible explanation for the increase in migraines among MS patients is the fact that MS is at least two to three times more common in women than men, and women are also two to three times more likely to experience migraines compared to men.
Yet, there could be other mechanisms at play. For instance, altered pain perception and threshold could cause a more significant level of pain in patients with MS. And, patients with migraines are more likely to experience additional pain syndromes, including temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain.
Addressing Migraines in MS Patients
Although the precise mechanisms behind the prevalence of migraines in MS patients may have yet to be identified, patients experiencing migraines can still find relief in the meantime. Since the link is still unknown, most doctors treat migraines and MS as separate entities. In general, most patients respond well to migraine treatments, but it’s also important to consider headache as a potential side effect from medications used to treat MS. In particular, disease-modifying drugs (DMDs) tend to illicit headaches, while as many as 80% of MS patients have described headaches as a symptom after beginning any form of MS therapy.
If you’re experiencing migraines, be sure to discuss the symptom with your doctor. In cases with severe, persistent migraines, expertise from a neurologist may be needed to aid in making informed treatment decisions.
Extreme temperatures can be uncomfortable for everyone, but for certain populations, summer weather is especially harsh – and in some cases, even dangerous. In particular, people with certain chronic illnesses may be at risk for heat-related complications. As you prepare for the warm season ahead, find out how you can beat the heat if you have a sensitivity below.
Conditions That Can Flare Up with Heat Many conditions, even when controlled effectively, can be aggravated by extreme heat. These include, but are not limited to:
Multiple Sclerosis:Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects the nervous system, triggering a number of symptoms including muscle weakness and pain. Many people with Multiple Sclerosis experience intensified symptoms in the heat, so much so that it’s been given a name: Uhthoff’s phenomenon. Even subtle body temperature increases can exacerbate symptoms, so do what you can to keep cool this summer. Limit outdoor activities, especially during the hottest part of the day, and wear light, breathable clothing.
Migraines: The relentless summer sun can intensify or bring on migraines in individuals who are prone to them. While your best bet is to stay indoors in a cool, dark room when you experience an episode, you can still enjoy outdoor activities when you’re feeling up to it. Just be sure to wear large, polarized sunglasses, and arm yourself with a wide-brimmed hat to prevent excess light exposure.
Rosacea: Characterized by redness and bumps, rosacea is a skin condition which can worsen with heat and sunlight. UV rays can lead to flare-ups, while excessive heat can dry out the skin, further triggering the condition. Most people with rosacea know to keep their skin protected during long stints of outdoor activity, but don’t forget about the shorter moments in between. Even walking into the grocery store or walking the dog can expose you to heat and sunlight.
Autoimmune Disorders: Conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus, known for causing joint pain, may be influenced by UV rays. Wearing protective clothing, or at the very least, applying an SPF 30 sunscreen or higher, may help.
Respiratory Illnesses: The dry season tends to make breathing more difficult and uncomfortable for people with conditions like asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). One reason is the spike in wildfires. If you live near a zone prone to wildfires, minimize your outdoor time as much as possible, as air impurities can aggravate the lungs.
Of course, extreme heat can take its toll on anyone, including otherwise healthy older adults. Exercising indoors or in a cool pool, snacking on chilled, healthy treats like homemade ice pops, and staying in the air conditioning during the hottest parts of the day are a few simple yet effective practices for avoiding any heat-related complications all summer long.
Mesenchymal stem cells have two unique and powerful properties that make them the focus of intense scientific research. First, mesenchymal stem cells can escape recognition by the immune system. In other words, when mesenchymal stem cells are infused into the body, the immune system does not recognize them as foreign and does not react to them. If the immune system did respond to the stem cells, it would cause an aggressive and potentially deadly allergic or immunologic response. Second, mesenchymal stem cells have the power to inhibit the immune system. This means mesenchymal stem cells could be used to treat immunological and autoimmune diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, Multiple Sclerosis, and Crohn’s Disease, among others. In essence, mesenchymal stem cells can affect the immune system without triggering an inflammatory response making them an ideal treatment for these diseases.
For some time, mesenchymal stem cells extracted from bone marrow were thought to be the only type of mesenchymal stem cells capable of beneficially affecting the immune system. This fact is not necessarily bad, but it does mean that mesenchymal stem cell donors must undergo a bone marrow procedure, which can be painful and expensive. It would be far better if doctors could use mesenchymal stem cells taken from easier-to-get tissues such as fat (adipose), umbilical cord blood, or Wharton’s jelly (umbilical cord tissue). Most people have adequate amounts of fat just under the skin, and umbilical cord blood and tissue are thrown away as medical waste every day.
Fortunately for patients, Dr. Yoo and colleagues showed that mesenchymal stem cells taken from fat tissue, umbilical cord blood, and Wharton’s jelly exhibit the same immunomodulatory properties as mesenchymal stem cells taken from bone marrow. The researchers showed that these types of mesenchymal stem cells were able to suppress T-cell proliferation as effectively as those cells taken from bone marrow. T-cell proliferation, it should be pointed out, is a key step in autoimmune inflammation that occurs in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and others.
In short, mesenchymal stem cells taken from easier-to-get tissues were just as effective at suppressing inflammation (in vitro) as those taken from bone marrow. These results will need to be confirmed in clinical studies; however, this approach will be much more convenient and less expensive for patients and donors if they can use mesenchymal stem cells taken from fat or umbilical cord rather than bone marrow and yet reap the same benefits.
Reference: Yoo KH et al. (2009). Comparison of immunomodulatory properties of mesenchymal stem cells derived from adult human tissues. Cell Immunology. 2009;259(2):150-6.
Four out of five people with multiple sclerosis experience muscle spasticity. Muscle spasticity causes increased muscle tone, uncontrollable muscle contractions, and spasms. Like severe muscle cramps, muscle spasticity can be quite painful and is one of the most troubling symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Despite being so common and so troublesome, multiple sclerosis patients with muscle spasticity have few effective treatments options. In many cases, the muscle spasticity continues even after treatment with drugs such as baclofen or tizanidine. Not only are these drugs largely ineffective, in many cases they cause substantial side effects.
Marijuana has long been known to exert a muscle relaxing (anti-spasmodic) effect. As medical marijuana is becoming legal in more jurisdictions, researchers are now carefully studying the effects of the substances within marijuana. One important example is a study conducted by Spanish researchers. In 2010, Spanish drug authorities approved the use of an oral spray that contains a combination of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), two active substances found in marijuana (Cannabis sativa). Spanish authorities approved the use of this drug for multiple sclerosis patients with moderate to severe muscle spasticity who did not benefit from other antispasmodic drugs.
Dr. Lorente Fernández and other Spanish researchers were interested in learning whether this combination of THC and CBD was able to help multiple sclerosis patients with severe muscle spasticity. The scientists found that the combination of substances found in medical marijuana was effective in 80% of patients they examined. What is striking about this finding is that every patient included in this study had failed to find relief from other medical treatments of spasticity. In other words, they had difficulty in treating muscle spasticity. When viewed in those terms, an 80% effectiveness rate is extremely impressive.
Some patients withdrew from treatment because they felt that THC/CBD did not help them within the first 30 days of starting treatment or some experienced dizziness or weakness.
Muscle spasticity is one of the most common, most troubling, and most difficult to treat symptoms of multiple sclerosis. While traditional medical treatments often fail, the substances in medical marijuana may offer hope. This study illustrates that 4 out of 5 multiple sclerosis patients with difficult to treat muscle spasticity achieved relief from a combination of THC and CBD, substances found in medical marijuana.
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Reference: Lorente Fernández et al. (2014). Clinical experiences with cannabinoids in spasticity management in multiple sclerosis. Neurologia. 2014 Jun;29(5):257-60.
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