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MS and coronavirus FAQ

Posted on: March 17 2020

Coronavirus image.jpgThe MS-UK Helpline team have been working really hard to answer all of your questions around how coronavirus will affect your multiple sclerosis (MS). Here are some of your frequently asked questions answered.

 

I’m taking a disease-modifying drug for my MS, does this leave my immune system compromised?

The answer to this question depends on which MS drug you are taking. Some will leave you with a weakened immune system and others won’t. The MS Society published some useful guidance on which drugs leave you most susceptible. Click here to read more. For more information about coronavirus and disease-modifying therapies in MS the Association of British Neurologists (ABN) has also released some guidance.

 

I have MS but do not take any immunosuppressant drugs, how will coronavirus affect me?

For the first time yesterday, the PM announced that people with MS should be practising social distancing. Social distancing encourages those that can to work from home, avoid large public gatherings and public transport, and avoid anyone displaying symptoms. Click here for more information.

 

Someone in my house is living with multiple sclerosis. What can I do to protect them?

You can also practise social distancing with them to reduce your chances of contracting the virus and bringing it home. Taking it one step further, the person living with MS in your house could self isolate in one room away from the rest of the household to further limit their chances of contracting the virus. Click here to see the guidance on social distancing and self-isolation.

 

For the latest information on coronavirus, visit www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response.

The coronavirus and MS

Posted on: March 02 2020

brittany-colette--CDN2nTKfrA-unsplash.jpgThe recent outbreak of the coronavirus COVID-19 has reached the UK and the Government has advised everyone to take precautions to avoid catching and spreading the condition. 

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The symptoms of infection are having a cough, a high temperature, and shortness of breath which can lead to pneumonia.

Because this is a new strain of virus, experts say there is a lot we still don’t know about how it will affect people with multiple sclerosis (MS). What we do know is that if you use disease-modifying therapies, as many people with MS do, then you have a higher risk of complications from viral infections, as some DMTs change your immune system.

If you are worried, please talk to your health care practitioner who will be able to advice you on the best course of action.

Protecting against coronavirus

The World Health Organisation has provided the following advice for people to protect against COVID-19.

  • Wash your hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water
  • When coughing and sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue
  • Keep at least one meter distance between yourself and others, particularly those who are coughing and sneezing
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth
  • Practise food safety by using different chopping boards for raw meat and cooked foods and wash your hands between handling them

You should also avoid contact with anyone who has travelled recently to an area where the coronavirus has broken out. The World Health Organisation provides regular updates on cases around the world here https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports/

In the UK, the medical advice is that if you have recently travelled from areas affected by coronavirus, or been in contact with someone who has, and developed flu like symptoms you should…

  • stay indoors and avoid contact with other people as you would with the flu
  • call NHS 111 to inform them of your symtpoms and they will advise you on what to do next

“I was told to expect the worst I could imagine, and then some”

Posted on: January 27 2020

scoo.jpgWe catch up with former Gogglebox star Scott McCormick after he underwent HSCT treatment

On my second day in Hammersmith Hospital, my treatment began.

I had 1.5 litres of chemo drugs, followed by the 1.5 litre anti-thymocyte globulin (ATG) chaser. The ATG was far harder than the chemo – that much I will say. I had a lot of water retention that concerned the doctors. I was carrying 5kg more than usual, which meant I was holding five litres of excess fluid from the chemo and ATG infusions over the previous four days.

Immune system destroyed

At this point, my bloods were frequently checked. I was neutropenic [having a very low level of neutrophils, which are white blood cells that fight infection], with absolutely no immune system what so ever. This meant any everyday bug or virus now had the potential to really go to town on me.

This was not helped by the chemo and ATG making all the thin membranes in my body – from my gums to my rear exit – very thin, sore and swollen.

Preparing for HSCT

Here are some things I’d like to pass on to anyone due to undergo HSCT:

  • Get a soft toothbrush – it really helped with the aforementioned gum issues
  • Basic personal hygiene is key at this time. Even if you can’t be bothered, and are having to use a chair in the shower, you must. A good warm shower not only feels great, but it will wash the strong chemo smell from your skin
  • I'd also recommend to anyone about to undergo HSCT to get a soft, warm woolly hat, as my head was cold after I lost my hair, and I was seen wearing my pants on my head at night
  • Paying £20 for the high-speed internet to keep yourself occupied is another must. I tried to write back to every person who had taken the time to write to me during my treatment. As well as being polite, it was also self-serving by keeping me very busy for a lot of most days
  • Make sure you have a few sets of spare clothes with you (I’ll explain why in a minute). I just about got away with a set of three full changes of clothes. With retrospect, four or five or might have been wiser, but there is a washer and a dryer on the ward for all to use

I was so glad that chemo smell only lasted for a week or so. The memory of it will be with me for a long time, I think. It even put me off the deodorant I was using, as I was associating it with the smells. It was a cheap one I will never use again, as I had given this some thought before I went in for the HSCT. Everything was cheap and disposable, so I could bin it after I left hospital.sctt.jpg

Inevitable infections

At the point where I was neutropenic, I had been told by Nader, one of the brilliant nurses looking after me, that if I ever started to feel warm, I should tell someone immediately. Everyone gets a nasty infection at this stage.

So, as predicted, a couple of days after having no immunity at all, I sure enough felt warm, so I informed Nader who promptly checked my temperature and confirmed what was suspected.

He disappeared for a couple of minutes after telling me to go back to my bed. He came back with another two nurses and a tray full of strong intravenous antibiotics, and plugged them into me, with a bag being pumped into each arm simultaneously.

As this came to an end, I was asked to move off the bed, as things can become a bit soft in the bowels. As I stood, I can only describe what happened as a tap being turned on from the back end. I had no control what so ever and made a right mess.

I was told that this will happen to every person at this stage with the strong antibiotics. This made me feel a bit better, but it was so weird not having any control. I still had, before the antibiotics, some level of control of my bowels, even though my multiple sclerosis (MS) had been slowly eroding my sense of feeling and control of all things down there for some time.

So, be aware, this will be something all HSCT recipients will go through.

The treatment actually wasn't anywhere near as bad as I thought it was it going to be. Bearing in mind that the first day at Hammersmith hospital I was told to expect the worst I could imagine, and then some. I guess I can imagine some pretty dire situations, because neither the chemo nor the ATG took me there, although the ATG felt far worse than the chemo drugs.

Scott 9.JPGI was told by a friend’s wife, who knows how to put things into context for a squaddie, that chemo is like Domestos bleach to the body. That’s why they put in a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line to the heart. The heavy thick artery walls are robust enough to take the chemo.

The chemo would take two to three hours to administer. The ATG took between 12 hours to 16 hours to administer the same volume of fluid. This does suggest the ATG is so very powerful, and the body can only take it slowly without it harming the individual.

My advice

If you are going to have HSCT treatment, a positive mental attitude will see you through it. You must remember you are in a country of 61 million people, and you are in one of the finest hospitals on the planet, with some of the best people, undergoing a well-rehearsed procedure. You will have passed through the strict entrance requirements to even be there in the first place. You are within reaching distance of a place where MS can no longer hurt you.

It’s worked

Fast forward six months, and I’ve had tests which have confirmed my HSCT treatment worked. I’ll try and explain this with the following analogy. I am a car, and MS is a thug that has smashed me up a bit. The thug has been taken away by the HSCT, but the car remains damaged. This is the simplest way I can explain it. The only downside is that the car might not fully repair itself, if at all. I have my fingers crossed, though. A positive mental attitude should keep me going, and I will have another MRI next October to check my MS has not returned.

For me in the short term, I will chip away to try to get strength back. I used to be a hands-on aircraft engineer, and there was nothing I couldn't do. I want it all back, and I want it yesterday.

Visit www.youtube.com/channel/UCMK3P_VOUfDtKU-JWkoeArg to follow Scott’s HSCT journey.

What is HSCT?

Posted on: December 12 2019

HSCT stands for hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. It was first used to treat cancer, but is now used as a therapy for autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS).

The aim of HSCT treatment in MS is to ‘reset’ the immune system to stop it attacking the body.

You may have seen it in the news because some high profile celebrities with MS have had the treatment, including Hollywood actress Selma Blair.

What happens in HSCT treatment?

First, chemotherapy is given to the patient via an infusion in the vein to stimulate the production of stem cells in the body. This usually takes up to 10 days. The extra stem cells are then harvested from the blood and stored.

The patient then spends some time in hospital while they are given powerful chemotherapy which kills off much of their immune system. The stored stem cells are then reintroduced to the patient’s body. At this point, due to having a much weakened immune system, they are at very high risk of infection and cannot leave the hospital, are kept in isolation, and are often given antibiotics.

The hospital stay can last for a long time while the immune system is rebuilding itself – anywhere from between 10 to 160 days. Within three to six months, the immune system should gradually rebuild itself.

Who is eligible?

You can get HSCT on the NHS, but only if you meet very specific criteria.

Generally, current evidence says that the treatment works best for those who are under 45 and have relapsing MS, have had it less than 10 years, and have an Expanded Disability Status Scale of 5.5 or less.

There must be signs that the condition is active, meaning there must have been two relapses within the last 12 months, despite the person having taken disease-modifying treatment.

HSCT support

If you are looking for more information or support surrounding HSCT, there are plenty of Facebook communities that may be able to help...

Alternatively, you can call the MS-UK Helpline free on 0800 783 0518.

Managing spasticity in MS

Posted on: December 09 2019

MS Clinical Nurse Practitioner Miranda Olding reveals the different treatment options for this common MS symptom

Spasticity, otherwise known as a tightening or stiffness of the muscle, is due to increased muscle tone and exaggerated response to muscle stretch. It is a common multiple sclerosis (MS) symptom and can affect the way we function, such as walking and posture. In addition, it can increase fatigue and cause pain. Unmanaged, it can lead to permanently shortened muscles called contractures and can affect daily living.

Spasticity also refers to involuntary muscle contractions or sudden movements, which range from a mild feeling of tightness, to severe, painful spasms, often of the legs. Here we focus on the problem of constant stiffness.

Treatment of spasticity is ideally done with the person with MS at the centre of a multidisciplinary team, with neuro physiotherapist, occupational therapist (OT), MS nurse, any relevant consultant, and possibly wheelchair services all liaising with each other.

The first thing to be aware of is that anything that is bothering the body can trigger or exacerbate spasticity in MS, so before medication, these 'trigger factors' need to be dealt with. They include, but are not limited to, infection, constipation, urinary retention, sore skin or pressure areas, anything that pinches, rubs or chafes, increased emotional stress and pain.

Muscle relaxant medication

The key with all muscle relaxants is to start low and go slow. You can even cut tablets in half with a tablet cutter from a pharmacy and start with a smaller dose. The idea is that by gradually increasing it every few days, you find a dose which reduces the problem, without causing too many side effects. The first people usually try is baclofen, and the most common side effects are drowsiness, or feeling weak. Because MS involves both stiffness and weakness in the muscles, you can find that a degree of stiffness is needed to maintain the strength needed for standing, so it can be a fine balance.

NICE guidelines recommend gabapentin as the next treatment to try if baclofen is not right for you. This is often used for nerve pain in MS, but also has a muscle relaxant effect. However, some people find the sedating side effects, or the fact that they are putting on weight, too difficult.

Another muscle relaxant that can be tried, which is less sedating, is tizanidine. But you will need a blood test before and for the first three months of treatment to check that your liver is coping and is not being harmed.

Occasionally, an older muscle relaxant, dantrolene, is tried. Diazepam (valium) is also effective as a short term muscle relaxant, but it is easy to become dependent on this. Clonazepam can also be tried.

When just a couple of defined muscles are causing the problems, botulinum toxin (botox) can be very effective when injected to paralyze these muscles. This needs to be repeated around every three months.

Cannabinoids

There has been evidence for some time that components of the cannabis plant can help some people with MS spasticity and pain. Sativex, the cannabis-derived medicine, is licensed to treat spasticity in people with MS, and is now available on NHS prescription from a specialist doctor, so speak to your neurologist or MS nurse to find out more. It is still illegal to possess this drug if you do not have a prescription.

CBD oil is a cannabis-based product that contains none of the psychoactive component, TCH, and so is legal for anyone to use. In studies where there was evidence of effectiveness, doses ranged from 0.8 to 1.8mg, taken between 2-4 times per day. The easiest way to control the dose is to take it in liquid form, and start with one drop under the tongue, then increase as necessary.

If other medications aren’t proving effective, a referral can be made to be seen in a specialist spasticity clinic, where a baclofen pump can be considered. This involves a tiny dose of baclofen being delivered straight to the spinal column via a small plastic tube, fitted to a pump, about the size of a shoe polish tin, which is inserted just under the skin in the abdomen. As the dose is so small, people have a lot less side effects than with tablets.

Posture

The way that you sit and lie in bed is important to break up the pattern of tight muscles with MS spasticity. However, this is something a physio or occupational therapists (OTs) can help with. OTs can also assist with night time splints to stretch out hands that have become very tight and to help ensure that all seating and equipment is supportive.

Keeping a full range of motion is important. Start by seeing a neuro-physio, and then keep things going with exercise. Everybody should be able to do some exercise or stretching, whether this is attending a regular exercise or yoga class, using regular or assisted gym equipment, including from a wheelchair, or even just passive stretching with a helper. A resource for this, 'Stretching with a helper' can be downloaded here https://bit.ly/2rrqHFu

Exercise not only helps to stretch out tight muscles, but also to reduce spasticity and spasm, boost fitness and lift mood.

3 steps to help beat stress

Posted on: November 06 2019

simon-rae-IGOBsR93I7Y-unsplash2.jpgIt’s National Stress Awareness Day, but we all know it’s important to take stock of your mental health not just today, but every day. 

Stress affects us all at some point and avoiding it completely can be nearly impossible. But taking steps to reduce it and manage your response to it, can be extremely beneficial. Research has shown that it can even help prevent new disease activity in people with multiple sclerosis (MS).

So if you’re craving a little more relaxation, read on.

Meditation

Research has shown that meditation and yoga can reduce stress and cause changes in the brain that allow more stress resilience. Meditation slows the heartbeat and calms the mind, leaving you in a relaxed state. You can find free guided meditations online. Try www.freemindfulness.org/download

Exercise

The role of exercise in helping reduce stress is well proven. One study found that exercise can not only help you manage it in the present, but it can also act as a buffer to protect you from future effects, too.

Personal trainer Dom Thorpe specialises in exercise for people with MS and offers an ‘MS Warrior’ programme online. Visit www.dt-training.co.uk/ms-warrior-programme/

Diet

Pile your plate high with prebiotics, because there is evidence that these feed the good bacteria in your gut, and improve the physiological impact of stress. Prebiotics are fibres found in foods such as chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, raw garlic, leeks and onions. When this fibre is digested by beneficial gut bacteria, the microbes release byproducts which researchers think influence brain function.

Prebiotics were also found to increase the amount of rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep that happens. REM sleep is believed to be critical for promoting recovery from stress, with research showing that those who get more REM sleep after a traumatic event are less likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder.

Finally, when you’re in need of a snack, you could do a lot worse than to reach for a handful of walnuts. A study found these tasty nuts and their oil may help prepare the body to deal with stress. Other studies have shown omega 3 fatty acids, such as the ones found in walnuts, can reduce bad cholesterol and inflammation markers in the body.

For more information about living with multiple sclerosis, subscribe to New Pathways magazine, your MS magazine of choice.

Guest blog: ‘Someone who is independent, who doesn’t know me but just wants to support and help …’

Posted on: October 10 2019

Adam.jpgAs part of our series of blogs today for World Mental Health day, Adam tells us about his first counselling session with MS-UK and how he felt supported to open up to someone who was completely removed from his experiences of living with multiple sclerosis…

‘I was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in March 2018 after one episode of symptoms. After I was told the news I was initially in a state of shock and just remember my wife bursting onto tears. I didn’t want to see or speak to anybody and I just couldn’t believe what was happening.

‘I have four children and all I could think of was them. I had a million questions in my head. How would I look after them? Would they end up looking after me?

‘The biggest feelings were ones of guilt and helplessness. I felt like the diagnosis meant my life was pretty much over and I would be a burden to those I am closest to. The feelings of helplessness were due to the lack of information and the unpredictability of the disease. Everything is a ‘maybe’ as each person is different so it’s a difficult diagnosis to understand and explain to others.

‘I found the information booklets produced by MS-UK and the MS Trust a great way of not only explaining the condition to friends and family but also for me to understand the condition and that the things I was feeling were normal.

Counselling

‘I saw a tweet from MS-UK which mentioned the counselling service and I thought to myself that it couldn’t hurt to try. The idea of counselling did have an appeal.

‘I feel lucky as I have a great support network but it’s hard sometimes when you do want to talk about MS but don’t want the guilt of burdening someone close to you. I did have reservations, mainly because it was a new experience and that unnatural feeling that comes from sharing things with a stranger. Fear of being judged came into it as well, although I quickly realised this was not something to worry about.

‘The first session left me feeling so positive. It was just so nice to have someone really listening. Someone who is independent, who doesn’t know me but just wants to support and help.

‘When we went through the initial checklist of things I may be struggling with, I did have a realisation that some of them were affecting me more than I thought. You do wonder how talking through things will actually help and this is perhaps the biggest reservation, but after just one session I absolutely understood how I could benefit from the service.

‘Counselling has helped me really think about my needs and gave me the opportunity to be reflective in my thoughts about how I interact with people, what I enjoy doing and how to feel positive about the future.

‘This service also helped me feel empowered to talk through some of the anxieties I was feeling living with MS. It really did feel like a journey and I do think about decisions and choices in a different and more positive manner.

‘I have definitely got better at recognising the things I’m proud of now, no matter how small. Using the MS-UK counselling service has made me realise that sometimes the simplest achievements can be proud moments to celebrate.’

About MS-UK Counselling 

MS-UK Counselling is confidential and open to anyone living with multiple sclerosis. MS-UK counsellors are registered or accredited with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) with knowledge of MS and its impact on mental wellbeing. MS-UK is a BACP organisational member and our number is 275169.

Register online today or call us on 01206 226500 to find out more.

Appointment number three of the MS-STAT2 trial

Posted on: September 30 2019

Cathy Howard 2_0.pngCathy Howard updates us on the next stage of the statins trial

I was up early again, which was just as well because parking was an absolute nightmare at the station! When we got to UCL Queens Square Institute of Neurology my appointment hadn’t been logged on their computer, so John and I had to wait for about an hour and a half to allow for my records to be released and my prescription to be authorised and filled at the pharmacy. We consoled ourselves with lunch and coffee at a local Italian restaurant.

Once the appointment resumed the lovely nurse Sarah looked after me again. She took the remainder of my original prescribed statin/placebo and replaced it with 2 new bottles and a six-month diary. She took blood and my blood pressure, and Dr Tom Williams noted some headaches and nausea I’d experienced during the first month. He also checked my lungs and heart. As long as these blood tests are ok, I can start to take two tablets per day increasing from one. I was able to collect a CD-Rom with my MRI scan on. So excited as it’s been a long time since I last had one done.

As long as my GP is happy, I can have my next lot of blood tests, at the end of November or the start of December at my local surgery. A few days afterwards I’ll get a phone call at home from one of the research team to ask me a few questions. I’ll let you know how it all goes.

 

Baseline testing day on the MS-STAT2 trial

Posted on: September 06 2019

Cathy Howard 2_0.pngMSer Cathy Howard updates us on the next stage of the statins trial

I was up with the lark again and even earlier than my last appointment! I got to UCL Queens Square Institute of Neurology almost an hour early, but I’d much rather be early than late.

A lovely nurse called Sarah took us through to the same area we were in last time and got me my second coffee of the day. She also gave me a Baseline worksheet with questions about how my MS currently affects me physically and mentally.

Dr Nevin John explained the day’s process, went through reams of paperwork with me and I signed five more informed consent forms for sub-studies. Don’t think of the trees!

Then the tests began. The Dr who administered those was very thorough and put me through a battery of sight, memory and manual dexterity tests, as well as a comprehensive neurological test. Records were taken after each part of each test.

I completed another walking test with a mobile phone with the MSteps app attached to my arm.

I had six lots of blood taken by another lovely nurse and a cannula inserted for contrast dye to be given part way through the lengthy MRI scan. I have some anxiety issues with MRIs so my GP kindly prescribed me diazepam as a sedative.

The last part of my day was 45 minutes of MRI scans. I estimate I had about 15 separate scans of varying durations. I was asked if I’d like some music whilst in the scanner, and I thought – well, I was an 80s teenager, so Madonna would be perfect. Although I couldn’t hear a lot of it whilst the bangs, clicks and dings were going on, when there were quieter periods, I was Vogueing (in my head) and being a strutting Material Girl! The technician who completed the scans will let me have a copy of the scan at my next appointment. Yay! It means I’ll be able to discuss it with my neurologist Dr Giles Elrington next time I see him. I haven’t had an MRI since my diagnosis, so I’m quite excited about that.

I was given my statin/placebo with a diary to keep updated. One tablet a night for a month. My next appointment is on 24 September. Bring it on!

Guest blog: Lydia from the MS Trust tells us about the new neurological toolkit

Posted on: August 29 2019

Image of doctors clipboard with penA new toolkit has been developed to help local health groups improve services for people living with progressive neurological conditions in England. The MS Trust was one of seven charities involved in developing the new guidance.

Lydia, communications officer at the MS Trust, explains more in this guest blog...

Healthcare services have been failing people with neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis (MS) for far too long. That’s a fact. The number of people living with neurological conditions in England is rising and will continue to increase. But, for a number of years now, neurology has not been a national priority for the NHS. Research shows that those living with progressive neurological conditions are experiencing delays in diagnosis and treatment, fragmented and uncoordinated services, limited availability of neuro-specialist rehab and reablement and a lack of psycho–social support. 

This inequality is simply not fair.

The NHS RightCare Toolkit for Progressive Neurological Conditions has been developed to help change that and ensure people living with brain and nerve conditions like MS, Parkinson’s and Motor Neurone Disease (MND) get the care and support they need and deserve.

Seven charities (MS Trust, MS Society, Parkinson’s UK, MND Association, Sue Ryder, MSA Trust and PSP Association) joined forces with NHS experts to produce the toolkit. The hope is that Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs)  will take full advantage of this unique opportunity; that they will use the practical, clear and innovative guidance the toolkit provides to tackle some of the big challenges people with these conditions face and ultimately improve healthcare services for this group, now and in the future.

If implemented in the right way, the numbers speak for themselves: up to 2,500 emergency admissions to hospital a year could be avoided for patients with these conditions as a result, with up to £10 million freed up to fund improved services.

So what does this mean for people with MS? The toolkit outlines four priorities that need addressing in MS care: improving the efficiency of disease modifying drug management, better use of data and technology to free up the valuable time of MS specialists, holistic support for people with advanced MS, and more MS specialists from different areas working together to provide joined-up care.

MS health professionals do an incredible job with the resources at their disposal and we know that many services are already delivering high quality care - the toolkit has real-life examples of best practice from across the country. But we want to help all areas reach the same high standard and make this best practice a reality for all. We will work closely with the other charities involved to support efforts to see the toolkit implemented effectively, with the shared aim of improving care for everyone living with a progressive neurological condition in England.

You can download the full NHS RightCare Progressive Neurological Conditions Toolkit from the NHS England website...

Visit the NHS England website

This blog is from the MS Trust...

This blog has kindly been written by the MS Trust. To find out more about them visit the MS Trust website or if you’re living with MS and would like to share your experiences of healthcare, please get in touch with the MS Trust at comms@mstrust.org.uk.

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