Is This an MS Symptom? Does It Matter?

In the first installment of a new webcast series that I am producing for MS Ireland, I asked my medical guests a specific question that also has broader context. The webcast was about MS and sex, and so was my question. However, it was similar to a question I’ve seen asked numerous times (and have asked myself as I advance down my life’s timeline).

Is it multiple sclerosis (MS), or is it just aging?

When I put the question to Claire Yang, MD, and then followed on with Michelle Toshima, PhD, I got an answer that I hadn’t heard nor really considered before.

That answer: “It doesn’t really matter.”

Sometimes, the Cause Is Less Important Than the Effect

It doesn’t matter whether difficult symptom X or adverse experience Y is age- or disease-connected. Just like it doesn’t matter if you were hit by a blue car or a green car when it comes to the “getting hit” part. Sure, there will be follow-up as the police go looking for the driver of that car, but when it comes to fixing the injuries from that accident, it matters very little.

Similarly, if we have sleep issues or restless legs symptoms, bouts of incontinence, or, as we discussed in our webcast, sexual difficulties, we should ask our doctors about them. Older people have all of those issues, as do people with chronic illnesses. If we were young and had any of them, we wouldn’t hesitate to speak to our medical team.

Why is it, then, that we (and I raise my hand in that group) hesitate because it might just be part of getting older?

If It’s Bothering You, Address It

The longer I live with the weight of MS on my back, the more I actually hope that new “stuff” is aging rather than MS.

Another symptom, another difficulty, another box toward disability ticked is not how I want to think of my autumn years. If I experience symptom X, I hope that my team and I will try to mitigate it as if it were “natural” aging first. If that doesn’t work, then we might assume it’s my disease acting up and perhaps get a bit more aggressive with it.

The point isn’t the “what do we do now” part, however. It’s that we recognize whatever “it” is as a thing that we would like to address, rather than spending unwarranted time and effort trying to discern between the two, often parallel tracks. It just doesn’t matter.

If it bothers you, if it’s limiting your enjoyment of life, if it’s keeping you from doing things you must get done then, be it MS or be it part of getting older, it’s something to be addressed. Much of it can be sorted — some easily, some not so easily.

If the question is “Is it MS, or is it age?” then the answer is “yes.” It doesn’t matter, so let’s go and find help. We’ll let someone else figure out the color of the car. …

Wishing you and your family the best of health.



My book Chef Interrupted is available on Amazon. Follow me on the Life With MS Facebook page and on Twitter, and read more on Life With Multiple Sclerosis.

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