People with MS can a have broad range of needs, from their feet to their eyes, from the physical to the emotional. That’s why different health care professionals will work together to provide you with comprehensive and coordinated care.
It can seem daunting at first getting to know all these new names and faces with their different functions. But it is also reassuring to know that a team of specialists is on hand to offer you their support when it’s needed. With the exception of your general practitioner (GP), they may all work under the same roof in one hospital. However, it might also be that you are referred to different specialists in different places.
In order to get the most out of your health care team, it’s important to know who the different members are and what they do. That way you can take advantage of what they’ve got to offer—after all, that’s what they’re there for. While not an exhaustive list, these are the kind of health care professionals you may come into contact with:1
Who does what?
General Practitioners (GPs)
GPs serve as the front-line caretaker for almost all people with MS. They are the ones who refer you to hospital in the first place for the tests that can confirm whether or not your symptoms are those of MS. GPs are responsible for your general health, so they are usually your first point of contact if you feel unwell. While they will treat more common health problems themselves, they will refer you to an expert for more specialised treatment.2
All teams need a leader. For most people with MS, their neurologist will act as the leader of their health care team, coordinating the different members and ensuring their health care needs are met. Neurologists, being specialists in diseases of the nervous system, are also responsible for the diagnosis and treatment of MS. You’ll have ongoing contact with your neurologist, seeing them more often if you suffer a relapse.1,3
As the name implies, these are nurses with a specialist’s in-depth knowledge of MS. They can offer a very broad range of practical and emotional advice, information and support to both you and your family. They’ll often be your first point of contact for problems related to your MS. You’ll find they also work closely with your neurologist to coordinate your care.1
Keeping occupied, whether at work or in the home, is important for how you feel about yourself. For many, symptoms of MS such as overwhelming tiredness can get in the way of a meaningful occupation. But the role of an occupational therapist is to provide practical solutions to help you maintain independence, productivity, and safety, whether it be at work or in the home. They’ll do this by assessing your needs, advising on how doing things differently might help, or suggesting adaptations that can be made to your environment to make living and working easier.1
The physiotherapist’s job is to assess and advise you on your mobility and movement. Based on your abilities and limitations, they may suggest a tailor-made exercise programme to maintain or improve strength, coordination, and balance. They can also advise on the management of pain, dealing with fatigue, and the appropriate use of mobility aids.2
MS can have a significant impact on a person’s emotional well being. Counsellors can assess this impact and help people deal with it, giving advice on feelings of anxiety, depression, or loss and how to cope with them. They can also help you think through any major decisions relating to MS; for example, the concerns you may have about telling other people, your treatment, and relationships.2
Psychologists are experts in how the mind works, and they can help you deal with the emotional consequences of living with MS. They are also called upon to help if MS affects a person’s behaviour or memory.1
Dieticians and nutritionists provide information about the role of diet in health, and can guide you on healthy eating. Although there’s no particular food or dietary supplement that can control or cure the symptoms of MS, a balanced, high-fibre, low-fat diet can promote health, reduce tiredness and constipation, and help you maintain a healthy weight. You may also be referred to a dietician if you develop problems with swallowing.1
Speech and language therapists
Problems with speech can interfere with a person’s ability to communicate effectively. Speech and language therapists are trained to diagnose, assist, and treat communication problems as well as issues with swallowing.1
Ophthalmologists are doctors who specialise in vision and the eyes. For a fair number of people with MS, the first symptom they notice is a problem with their sight—for example, they may not see so clearly, colours may look different, or they may feel a deep, dull ache, especially when they move their eyes. So ophthalmologists can play an important role in recognising that someone has MS as well as providing helpful guidance to those with known MS whose sight has been affected by the condition.4,5