You do not need to know how to make a watch to read time. In other words, it is not so important to understand every aspect of the MS disease process as it is to know that the vast majority of patients with MS will have the disease throughout their lifetime. Patients with MS will almost certainly have new symptoms along with relapses of old symptoms, with attacks tending to decrease in frequency and severity over the years. The interval between these attacks cannot be predicted with any accuracy, but most MS patients have an attack frequency ranging from one attack in 4 years to two or more each year. For some patients, there is a tendency over a period of time to develop some disability. This is more serious when disability progresses between attacks and is the basis for making a diagnosis of secondary progressive disease (discussed in Part Three). A recently published study of the natural course of MS in patients at the Mayo Clinic found that, on average, no statistically significant progression of disability occurred over a period of 10 years! However, 30% of the patients did experience progression of disability. This kind of information is important to consider in making therapeutic decisions. Importantly, a variety of treatments for MS have been shown to have an impact on virtually every type of disease that we recognize as MS (Part Six).
59. So many people want to be helpful, but I'm feeling overwhelmed and am not sure whether the information I am getting is correct. Where should I go for help?
The understanding, experienced physician is sufficient to meet the needs of most patients with MS. Often it is a matter of sweeping away unfounded fears and false conclusions about the disease and the effect of the disease on function. Friends and families are important to patients and often provide wonderful support. However, the information that they have is not always correct or reasonably up-to-date.
Physicians encounter patients (and sometimes their immediate family members) who when coached to ask appropriate questions spill out baseless perceptions that severe disability such as paralysis and sexual dysfunction occurs often and early in their illness. Each of us has our own particular set of fears when it comes to how an illness will impact us. Doctors and nurses are no exceptions.
60. I'm having trouble coping with this diagnosis. Should I seek professional counseling?
When faced with stress, it is difficult for us to understand and accept difficult issues such as a new diagnosis. Psychological counseling may help some patients with anxiety resulting from the stress related to their diagnosis. The inability to predict the course of MS, apart from a few generalities regarding the illness, sometimes detracts from any confidence the patients might have in the treating neurologist. No neurologist can foretell the course for an individual patient, but MS takes on certain predictabilities in relationship to the course of illness, as outlined briefly in the previous paragraph. The reality of predictably effective, safe, and convenient therapy promises to take out much of the sting associated with accepting the diagnosis of MS. However, some will require the help of social workers, psychologists, or even psychiatrists to help them cope with anxiety precipitated by the new diagnosis.
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With all the stresses and strains of modern living, panic attacks are become a common problem for many people. Panic attacks occur when the pressure we are living under starts to creep up and overwhelm us. Often it's a result of running on the treadmill of life and forgetting to watch the signs and symptoms of the effects of excessive stress on our bodies. Thankfully panic attacks are very treatable. Often it is just a matter of learning to recognize the symptoms and learn simple but effective techniques that help you release yourself from the crippling effects a panic attack can bring.