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Overall health matters in MS

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Amy Bowen, the MS Trust's Director of Service Development, reports from the CMSC conference on two talks about the importance of lifestyle issues and MS

This week, the MS Trust was proud to have been invited to give a presentation at the Consortium of MS Centers annual meeting. We were invited to speak about our GEMSS programme, to present the evidence about the value of MS specialist nurses and allied health professionals and to share our experience of running this very unique programme. It was a great experience.

But this blog isn’t about GEMSS. It's about two presentations at the conference that really gave me something to think about. The presentations were given by neurologists but didn’t really focus that much on the medical perspective. They were about having a much wider understanding about MS that goes beyond the medical model and focusses on a more comprehensive approach to MS care.


The first speaker was Allen Bowling, an MS neurologist from Denver, Colorado. He was talking about an integrative model in MS, where medical care is integrated with a focus on the overall health of the person. It's not just about treating MS, it's about helping the person to be as well as possible. His basic point is that by focussing on the health of the person, you reduce the other health problems they might develop. Those other problems worsen overall health, but also can have a negative effect on their MS.  

All of us, whether we have MS or not, share the risk of developing many health problems. Many of these problems are lifestyle-related, in other words, they are related to how we live our lives. The integrative model, to my mind, emphasises that MS is part of a person’s whole life. Focussing on the wider picture of someone’s health helps reduce the amount of additional health problems someone with MS has to contend with.

Prof Bowling suggests that every consultation between someone with MS and their healthcare team should always cover these seven areas:

  1. Disease modifying drugs
  2. Diet and weight management
  3. Physical activity
  4. Personal and social well-being
  5. Tobacco and alcohol use
  6. Prevention/management of co-morbidities (other health conditions)
  7. Symptom management

Brain health

The second talk was from Prof Gavin Giovannoni from London and focussed on the concept of brain health. Prof Giovannoni has been at the forefront of the Brain Health initiative. Hopefully you have seen the report and the MS Trust has joined with many other organisations across the globe to endorse the initiative.

The basic concept is, again, to have a wider understanding of MS, that tries to protect the brain not just from MS changes, but also from age-related changes that affect all our brains. Keeping the brain healthy gives it more capacity to respond to and compensate for the changes caused by MS.

Prof Giovannoni talked about eight areas that aren’t specific to MS that have an effect on our brain health:

  1. Smoking
  2. Exercise
  3. Diet
  4. Alcohol
  5. Sleep
  6. Co-morbidities (other health conditions)
  7. Infections
  8. Other medications taken that aren’t for MS

Overall health matters

The two lists are similar, the two concepts of an integrative model or a brain health approach are also similar. The point is that overall health matters for people with MS as much, and probably much more than for anyone else.

If you are living with MS, and often feel that there is so much about the condition that’s out of your control, think about how these ideas about an integrative model of MS or brain health might change that. How can you adopt an integrative, brain-healthy approach that helps you be well and stay well now and in the future?

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