Why Comorbidities Plague Me More than MS

Last updated: June 2021

Multiple sclerosis is just one medical condition I manage every day. My most troublesome symptoms are muscle spasticity, dizziness, neuropathic pain, weakness, digestive and bladder dysfunction. I take baclofen to lessen spasticity and Vesicare to control bladder urgency. I cannot and/or choose not to use any drug therapy for dizziness and neuropathic pain. Weakness, much like fatigue, is hard to manage. Engaging in some form of physical activity is generally recommended. I’ve tried several approaches, all problematic. It’s something I’ll grapple with until I croak. Like many of you, I’ll increase my activity one day and spend the next two recovering in my recliner in a sedentary daze. Digestive dysfunction I’ll cover later. It is a crossover condition that may or may not be MS-related.

Other health issues

I also suffer from degenerative spine disease. For me it has been progressive, starting with lower back pain in my twenties, then neck and shoulder pain from a herniated cervical disc in my early thirties. In my forties I was diagnosed with MS. Diagnostic MRIs also showed arthritic facet joints in the lumbar region. By my late fifties, an MRI showed worsened stenosis (narrowing) in my neck and lumbar joints. Herniated and bulging discs populate my entire spine from neck to thoracic to lumbar. At age 60, sciatica pain now plagues me more than anything else I’ve just mentioned.

Pain in exchange for disability from atrophy

It makes me sound like a mess, and I feel like one whenever I venture outside my normal sedentary habits. As long as I sit quietly and seldom move, most of my symptoms are invisible even to me. But sitting quietly most of the time is the worst thing I can do to myself. Pain is necessary to keep my body active enough to avoid complete implosion. I understand why it must be this way. Pain in exchange for being completely, severely disabled from atrophy. I used to mouth empty platitudes about this compromise, feigning gratitude that it isn’t as bad as it could be. Such banalities are only useful in warding off other people’s overzealous curiosity and infernal suggestions for cures. But I can’t buls**t myself anymore and I don’t try.

IBS symptoms consume my daily life

I was most recently diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS. Those symptoms consume my daily life like no other. Ironically, IBS is the least serious of all my comorbidities in that it is not progressive and will not cause organ failure or cancer. Yet it is the most debilitating. Digestion rules.

No treatment

If you’ve ever had chronic diarrhea or constipation for a long period of time and the extreme discomfort that accompanies both conditions, you understand how digestive dysfunction can dominate your mood, actions, and self-confidence. The crazy thing about IBS is that there is no treatment for it. We are given a FODMAP list of foods and told to identify the foods that trigger our symptoms. This is supposed give us a tool to control those symptoms. But it doesn’t work that way. Our bodies are unpredictable. I have a very healthy diet. I cook almost every day. No processed foods. I make turkey chili and lay it over a bed of mixed greens and tomatoes. I make chicken noodle soup and throw in spinach and water chestnuts. One week I tolerate it just fine. The next week I get constipated and rely on laxatives. Four months later I have diarrhea eating the same diet. Stomach bloat is an excruciating fullness that feels like my ribs will break. My stomach distends to resemble a six-month pregnancy. Every. Single. Day.

Linked by a loss of neurological function

This condition is poorly understood but thought to be caused by a loss of neurological function in the gut known as gastroparesis--partial gastric paralysis. Multiple sclerosis neurological damage is recognized as being a possible cause, but many people suffer from IBS that do not have MS. The only way to alleviate the fullness and quiet my colon is by fasting. Obviously, I can’t do that forever.

I don’t know what’s in store. All these symptoms from all the medical conditions could last the rest of my life. My challenge is to compartmentalize them and keep pushing ahead.

Nothing new, I know. It seems like the older I get, the more I generate static electricity, crawling on my belly, collecting stuff that’s attracted to the electric charge and dragging it along with me.

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