MS Caregivers: The IVSM Ride
By Laura Kolaczkowski—July 2, 2013

There was a recent discussion on multiplesclerosis.net, started by a person who is trying to navigate the emotional pitfalls of caring for someone who is living with MS.  This friend’s friend had just undergone multiple days of Intravenous Solumedrol (IVSM) treatment, and it sounds like they emerged on the other side of the massive steroids, barely on speaking terms. To back up for the un-initiated, IVSM is usually given to people in the midst of an MS relapse in the hopes of reducing the inflammation that may be causing problems with the symptomsSteroids are used in a lot of different conditions to battle inflammation, but few are like the super-sized doses given with IVSM for Multiple Sclerosis – it’s like having a 44oz Big Gulp from the soda fountain.

The typical dose of IVSM is one GRAM of solumedrol-  to compare that amount, if you took prednisone tablets as the equivalent, you would need to take over 25 tablets. Remember, that’s in one dose.  And IVSM is normally given in 3-5 day doses. Looking at the lengthy list for the side effects of Soumedrol, it’s a surprise anyone takes them at all.  But the usual view seems to be the outcome is worth it for the short term suffering.

Many people talk about the burst of energy they get from IVSM – I have yet to experience that phenomenon –  I just have insomnia. Three hours of continuous sleep seems to be my limit while taking these mega-doses and my husband is no longer concerned when he wakes and finds me missing from bed at 3 AM.  I must admit I envy the people who say that while on IVSM it is not unusual to clean their house from top to bottom, taking advantage of that excess energy – if I’m not going to sleep there should be some benefit, heaven knows my house could use the extra attention these days.

Thankfully, I have only had these mega-doses of steroids on a few occasions in five years.  The worst side effects for me, in no particular order are the insomnia and stomach pain.  I think almost everyone who takes steroids experiences some form of insomnia, so that was to be expected.  What I didn’t anticipate was the stomach pain, an extreme form of indigestion.  I am also treated for GERDS, a form of reflux disorder that I didn’t even know I had until all the doctors started testing me back around 2008.  GERDS can be a fairly quiet problem and slowly erode the linings of the esophagus from the reflux of stomach acid, without knowing you have the problem.  The only time I really know I have GERDS is when I am on steroids – the stomach and chest pain can be enough that if I hadn’t been forewarned, I might think I was experiencing another heart attack.  When I take the steroids, my doctors have me double-up on the GERDS meds, but even that doesn’t stop the pain.  I just tough it out as best I can, especially with the aid of a jar of Tums antacids, keeping in mind the end justifies the means.  So far, my MS relapses respond fairly well to steroids.

My family and friends would tell you I have a third side-effect from IVSM – mood swings. They quickly learned to leave me alone, stay out of my way, and watch the calendar for the post-IVSM days to pass.  It takes me about a week to regain emotional equilibrium coming off these mega-doses.  You can pick up the newspaper and read headlines about ‘roid rage, when someone taking mega doses of steroids goes berserk, but that is almost always some bulked up body builder abusing their body. Fortunately I don’t think I go to those emotional extremes, but I see how it can happen if I were to use mega-steroids for a long period of time.

Which brings me back to what this friend asked in the Discussion Forums.

How do your friends and family deal with the emotional roller coaster those of us with MS tend to ride, especially with the side effects of our meds?  I hope you will take a moment and read more of this persons’ situation. I’m sure any tips you might share with this concerned caregiver will be appreciated.

Wishing you well,

Laura

Profile photo of Laura Kolaczkowski

About Laura Kolaczkowski

Laura is active in the national and local MS community, facilitating patient programs including MS research and an MS Aquatics program. She is also a presence on the internet at MS patient sites and maintains her blog at InsideMyStory.com. Laura has a particular research interest in the use of internet information by people with MS and how that knowledge is shared in the patient-doctor relationship.

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