Coping with MS as a newly diagnosed young adult

March 27, 2020 Swedish Neuroscience Team


In this article:

  • Dr. James Bowen of the MS Center at Swedish offers insights on treatments that can support physical, emotional, and social well-being in young adults with MS.

  • The diagnosis can be difficult for patients who are concerned about the disease’s impact on their future.

  • Researching available resources and treatments, as well as being willing to ask for support at school and work, can help you proactively address MS.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, most people are diagnosed with the disease between the ages of 20 and 50.

While a multiple sclerosis diagnosis disrupts a person’s life at any age, being diagnosed in your 20s and 30s can make you feel as if major life events like a first home, a promising career or marriage will either be put on hold or vanish entirely behind a heavy cloud of uncertainty.

Maximizing wellness — and hope — with a comprehensive approach

The average life expectancy for a young person diagnosed today is about the same as for someone without MS. Earlier diagnosis and treatment, plus new medicines, have made this possible. Along with advances in treatment, it’s also important to seek a well-rounded approach when it comes to managing MS.

James Bowen, M.D., director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center in the Swedish Neuroscience Institute, shares the center’s philosophy about finding ways to live with the disease. “We want to help patients get on with their lives by taking a comprehensive approach to treatment in three main areas,” Dr. Bowen says. “Those areas are physical, emotional and social well-being.”

MS symptoms

Living with MS can make it hard to achieve physical, emotional and social well-being for several reasons, chief among them are the symptoms. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society reports these common symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Trouble walking
  • Weakness
  • Vision problems
  • Dizziness and vertigo
  • Bladder and bowel problems
  • Trouble processing and remembering new information
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Pain and depression

Those are challenging symptoms for anyone. But they can especially impact active young adults, who may fear the effect on their relationships, job and education.

Tips for handling life with MS

Knowing how symptoms can affect your well-being, it’s important to work with your doctor to put together a team of supportive caregivers as soon as you can. Along with family and friends, you may want to include a doctor, nurse, psychologist and social worker. A supportive team behind you will help you proactively address MS and the impact it has on your life.

Keep these tips in mind as you navigate the new landscape of an MS diagnosis:

  • School: Sometimes MS may cause changes in cognition. If so, you’ll want to ask for more time to do your work. Seek out an advocate — whether that’s a college advisor or a liaison who helps you access services and facilities on the college campus. This person can help with arrangements, such as letting you take more frequent trips to the bathroom during class or setting up a lighter course load. They can also help explain the reality of your MS diagnosis to teachers and college staff, and find ways for the school to support you
  • Work: Look for the kind of support you’ll find at the MS Center. Dr. Bowen recalls a patient who received the center’s help when she faced hardships in the workplace caused by management’s refusal to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Driving: Even with MS, most people can keep driving. But sometimes leg weakness can hinder operating the gas or brake. If that’s the case, ask about an evaluation that can help you obtain the right to have hand controls installed in your vehicle.
  • Dating: It’s understandable if you’re afraid to let others know you have MS, or if you fear symptoms like bladder dysfunction or depression will hurt your relationships. Just keep in mind that medicines, counseling and lifestyle changes can help you live a full life and manage your symptoms so you can do the activities you love.
  • Mood: As Dr. Bowen notes, “MS is a tough disease. Patients need support to help them get on with their medical and personal lives. We encourage patients to remove emotional clutter and spend their energies on things that are important and rewarding to them.” Find a counselor who encourages you to do the same while helping you address the other emotions you’re coping with because of your MS diagnosis.

Looking forward to years of well-being

If you’ve had an early MS diagnosis, it may feel like your life has been torn beyond repair. The team at the Multiple Sclerosis Center in the Swedish Neuroscience Institute understands. “Our goal is to show patients how to put the fabric of their lives back together and realize they’re not alone,” Dr. Bowen says.

With support from friends, family and health care professionals, you’ll find that while you may need to make changes, you can still look forward to years of physical, emotional and social well-being.

Find a doctor

If you have questions about multiple sclerosis, contact the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Swedish. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual visits.

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Additional resources 

Millennials may need to worry about autoimmune disease, right away

MS Adventure Program turns 1 with more excitement to come

Living with Multiple Sclerosis

Signs and symptoms of multiple sclerosis

How stigma and hiding MS can hurt a patient's health

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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About the Author

From deep brain stimulation to focused ultrasound to pediatric neurology, The Swedish Neuroscience Team is recognized as national experts to help people address a wide array of neurological conditions. Our goal is to provide useful and helpful advice and tips on non-surgical and surgical options to treat any disease of the mind.

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