Progression in MS – Why You Should Trust Your Senses

“The disease appears to be progressing…”. It’s right up there with “I’m leaving you” and “Hello, it’s the tax office here…”. But fearing bad news is no reason to bury your head in the sand – especially when it comes to your health. Changes in your body can provide vital clues about your MS and how best to treat it. A general worsening of symptoms, in particular, is an important indicator that your current treatment strategy isn’t working and that it could be time to try a different approach.

Monitoring MS

Until now, regular MRI scans have been the mainstay of monitoring MS, allowing doctors to detect brain changes and modify treatment regimens accordingly. While MRIs are undoubtedly helpful, they can be costly and time consuming – there’s also the fact that most people have got better things to do than having to lie still in a clicking tube. Thankfully, researchers are working on new ways to monitor the disease all the time. In the future, it’s possible a simple blood test will tell you everything you need to know about your MS (watch this space!), but in the meantime listening to your body is probably one of the most effective ways to keep tabs on your condition.

Sniffing Out Change

Take your nose, for example. New research suggests that reduced ability to detect odors could be a sign that a person’s MS is progressing. In one study that tested 20 patients with MS over a period of three years, nearly half showed a diminished sense of smell. What’s more, there appeared to be an association between less sensitive noses and more frequent relapses. Which figures: the detection of odors is processed in higher central regions of the brain, and we know these can come under attack from MS, particularly in progressive forms of the disease. In fact, one day a sniff test could be all it takes to tell doctors what type of MS you have. In a recent study in Spain, for example, the researchers ffound sense of smell was markedly weaker in people with SPMS than in those with RRMS.

How MS Affects Your Tastebuds

Sense of smell plays such a huge role in flavour detection, it’s possible that your tastebuds could also be affected by your MS. A study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Smell and Taste Center, for example, found as many as 32% of people with MS scored low in taste tests when it came to detecting salty foods, with 24.6% struggling to detect sweet foods. What’s more, the greater the number and size of lesions spotted in the large sectors of the frontal and temporal lobes on an MRI, the worse a person’s taste perception appeared to be. In other words, if you find yourself needing to add more salt and sugar to your food, this is definitely something to mention to your doctor.

MS and Grip Strength

Finally, your sense of touch could also provide important clues about your MS, if a recent American study is anything to go by. Presenting their findings at the at the 2017 Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers’ Annual Meeting, in New Orleans, the researchers explained that patients with SPMS showed a more marked decline in grip strength during the study period than those with RRMS. In other words, monitoring grip strength in people with MS – particularly SPMS – could be another helpful measure of disease progression.

Of course, none of this feels like the most welcome news in the world. Did we really need more evidence of the havoc MS can wreak on the body? But here’s the thing: being aware of different markers means you and your doctor can use them to better understand how your MS is progressing and decide on the best treatment strategy for you. There are plenty of options when it comes to managing MS – being an ostrich isn’t one of them.

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