Multiple sclerosis (MS) brings with it a unique set of challenges, including a higher risk of certain other health issues. Some of these are known complications of MS, while for others, the reasons behind the association with MS remain unclear. In some cases, there are steps you can take to prevent these MS-related health risks. And in all cases, it’s important to be aware of the warning signs so you and your doctor can take quick action if they appear.
People with MS appear to be at increased risk of heart disease, congestive heart failure, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease, according to a review of studies on the topic published in March 2015 in Multiple Sclerosis.
While the review couldn’t establish the reasons for this higher risk, the authors point out that people with MS have higher rates of smoking and being overweight or obese, and lower levels of physical activity, than the general population — all of which can contribute to cardiovascular disease.
To lower your risk, “It’s vital that you stay active and exercise, even if you’re in a wheelchair, to keep your heart and blood pumping throughout your body,” says Stephen Krieger, MD, a neurologist at the Corinne Goldsmith Dickinson Center for MS and an associate professor of neurology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
Dr. Krieger adds, “Eat a heart-healthy diet and be diligent about knowing your numbers, especially cholesterol counts and blood pressure.”
While different types of cardiovascular disease have somewhat different signs and symptoms, any abnormal pain, fatigue, or shortness of breath should prompt you to see a medical professional.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is the formation of a blood clot in one of the deep veins of your body, typically a leg. It’s particularly dangerous if the clot breaks loose and travels to a lung.
People whose MS has caused them to be less mobile are at risk for DVT.
In fact, a study published in April 2014 in the Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis found a 2.6-fold increased risk of venous thromboembolism (blood clots in the veins) in study subjects with MS and noted that immobility, spasticity, and use of steroids were associated with a higher risk.
Signs and symptoms of DVT include swelling, pain, tenderness, warmth, or redness in or on your leg.
To prevent blood clots in your legs, avoid sitting or lying in one position for prolonged periods, and take short walks a few times a day. If you cannot walk, consider doing leg-strengthening exercises, modified as needed, to keep the blood flowing in your legs.