If you’ve been diagnosed with SPMS, it is possible that you have had relapsing-remitting MS for a decade or more. At this point is when you may begin to feel a transition in your disease.
The shifts in conditions are often not obvious or easily recognizable, But you may notice that your relapses may not seem to go away fully.
Most people with relapsing-remitting MS — about 80% — eventually get secondary progressive MS. The relapses and remissions that used to come and change into signs that steadily get worse. The shift generally begins 15 to 20 years after you’re initially diagnosed with MS.
Because multiple sclerosis is such a complex disease, it can be hard to spot the changes that signal SPMS, even for health professionals. Doctors often anticipate at least six months before diagnosis SPMS.
Symptoms of Secondary Progressive MS
Relapsing-remitting MS can be random, but there’s normally a pattern of apparent relapses followed by intervals of recovery. With SPMS, relapses tend to be less enunciated. They may occur less often or not at all. When you do have relapses, improvement is not as complete.
Along with these signs, other symptoms might show you’re shifting to SPMS:
- More weakness and more trouble with coordination
- Bowel and bladder problems
- Stiff, tight leg muscles
- Difficult time with fatigue and problems thinking, depression
Your physician can only diagnose SPMS by comparing your symptoms over time. So it’s essential that you inform her about any changes in your symptoms.
It’s not clear why people progress from relapse-remitting to secondary progressive MS.
Some scientists speculate it may be an aftereffect of nerve and tissue injury that appeared early in the disease. But they require more research to surmise what’s behind the shifts in the disease.
The primary kind of drugs for MS, called disease-modifying drugs (DMDs), make relapses transpire less often and symptoms less severe. For people with SPMS who still have relapses, DMDs can still help. But for those whose symptoms just get gradually worse, the drugs don’t really work.
The FDA has approved one disease-modifying drug called mitoxantrone (Novantrone) to treat SPMS. But it still mainly works to treat relapses.
Mitoxantrone has severe side effects, which includes heart problems and leukemia. So there’s a boundary to how much people can use it in their lifetimes. It’s usually for people with the disease that deteriorates quickly when other treatments don’t work.
Another drug called methotrexate often used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, may improve symptoms in people with SPMS.
Managing Your Symptoms
Some drugs can ease a lot of the symptoms you might have with SPMS. For example, there are medicines to relieve pain, bladder problems, fatigue, and dizziness.
Lifestyle modifications can also make a difference. Experts advise sticking to a healthy diet and deciding to keep your weight under control.
Exercise is also beneficial for SPMS and other kinds of the disease. Try movements that get your heart pumping a bit, like brisk walking or swimming, and those that help you expand and strengthen your muscles and enhance your range of motion. They’ll provide you more energy and increase your mood. It’s also a solid way to control your weight.