Coping with a Diagnosis of MS

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Just as the symptoms of MS can be very different for different people, so everyone has their own personal response to being diagnosed.1

You might feel terribly sad, frightened or angry. You might feel sorry for yourself. You might doubt the diagnosis. Or you might even feel relief that you have a diagnosis for your symptoms. All are entirely normal reactions to being told you have MS.1

It's a sufficiently common disease that many people will at least have heard of MS. The trouble is, what you've heard may paint a very bleak picture in your head of life restricted to a wheelchair. No surprise then, if your overwhelming feelings are ones of shock and devastation.2 If it's any consolation, people who have had MS for a while generally take strong exception to its portrayal in the media - particularly in charity ads which tend to emphasise the most dramatic and shocking aspects of the disease to encourage donations. In their opinion, such advertising does not provide an accurate picture of MS, failing to educate people about its realities.3

Unfortunately, diagnosis is unlikely to give you the sense of closure you may have been looking for. Nor will it tell you how best to proceed. Many newly diagnosed people feel a sense of abandonment, as their neurologist simply can't answer all their questions about their prognosis because of the unpredictable nature of the disease.2 On the other hand, it is not uncommon for those that have previously worried that their symptoms are the result of a terminal illness, such as a brain tumour, to feel relieved that MS is the cause of their problems.2 For some, just confirmation that they are ill comes as a relief. Non-specific complaints can now be given a name and be taken into account for future life planning.4

Odd as it may sound, denial can be an effective way of coping with the early stressful period after you're diagnosed. But while it can provide a psychological breather in the short term, you can get stuck in denial, which can get in the way of you adapting to the challenges of living with MS.5

Whatever your initial reaction is, the one thing that does seem clear is that the better informed you are about MS around the time of your diagnosis, the better able you will be to cope with the condition.2,4,5. Accepting MS does not mean that you are admitting defeat. Rather it means that you will be well placed to find out all you can about the condition so that you can move on and start living your life again.

1. Isaksson A-K, Ahlstrom G. J Neurosci Nurs 2006; 38: 229-37
2. Johnson J. Multiple Sclerosis 2003; 9: 82-8
3. Solari A et al. Multiple Sclerosis 2007; 13: 763-9
4. Heesen C et al. Multiple Sclerosis 2009; 15: 1103-12
5. Lode K et al. Multiple Sclerosis 2007; 13: 792-9