MS specialists can help people with MS due to their experience and knowledge of treatment options and emerging science. Finding the right specialist is an important step in a person’s treatment plan.
While all doctors get training in MS, MS specialists dedicate their career to the treatment of this specific condition.
Because of this, MS specialists usually have more direct access to many treatment options and stay on top of cutting-edge research that may help people with MS.
This article explores what MS is, the role of an MS specialist and other healthcare professionals treating people with MS, how MS specialists can help people with MS, and how to find the right MS specialist.
The attack targets the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. Over time, this damages the fatty substance that coats the nerves, called myelin. The damage causes them to work less well and sometimes even destroys them.
The demyelination causes a range of symptoms, including:
A primary care provider (PCP) is who to see when a person feels unwell, needs a referral to a specialist, or has new health symptoms.
For many people with MS, a PCP is the person who initially suspects MS. In most cases, the PCP will refer a person to a neurologist or MS specialist.
A PCP may also:
- treat illnesses related to MS or MS treatment, such as infections
- monitor overall health with regular checkups
- call in MS medication prescriptions
- answer questions about how MS affects other health conditions
- refer to additional providers, such as a psychiatrist or physical therapist
In most cases, an MS specialist will make the MS diagnosis. This is because there is
A neurologist may recommend a wide range of tests both to rule out other causes and determine the type of MS a person has.
An MS specialist can field MS-related questions, advise about cutting-edge treatments, make recommendations about lifestyle changes, review the latest MS research, and help a person weigh the costs and benefits of each treatment.
A specialist’s knowledge of MS is broader and deeper than other providers, giving them more insight, especially when there are challenging or unusual conditions.
For example, a person who has MS and another autoimmune disease may have unique treatment needs that another healthcare professional doesn’t routinely manage.
Some benefits of going to an MS specialist include the following:
- They can more accurately and reliably diagnose MS because of their experience with the disease.
- They work to remain updated on new treatment developments and emerging research. This means their advice may be more updated, and often informed by emerging science.
- They spend more time with people who have MS. This allows them to draw on anecdotal evidence from others.
- They may know more MS experts, such as therapists and physical therapists, giving them a broader referral network and more options if a person needs additional care.
- They can offer a wide range of treatment options. A PCP may routinely prescribe just one or two MS medications, while a specialist has a more comprehensive view of medication and other care options.
- They usually work with other MS specialists who share knowledge and experience.
- They may have access to clinical trials and other emerging treatments that can help a person live better with MS.
- If medication fails or causes unpleasant side effects, an MS specialist will likely have many more treatment options to recommend.
- An MS specialist typically has more knowledge about MS and pregnancy, fertility, mental health, and other common concerns, meaning they can offer more helpful guidance.
MS specialists are neurologists. So the search begins by finding a neurologist with significant experience treating MS.
A person can ask a PCP for a referral to a neurologist. Some other strategies that can help a person widen their search include the following actions:
- Contact an MS advocacy group and ask for a list of providers in the area.
- If a friend or family member has MS, ask who they see and if they are happy with them.
- Join an MS support group and ask for feedback on local professionals.
- Look at a list of neurologists in an insurance network, then call and ask about their experience working with MS.
The first doctor a person sees might not be the right one for their needs. So it is important to keep an open mind, ask lots of questions, and work to find the right match.
A person should be comfortable with their doctor’s bedside manner and feel listened to by their doctor. They should be sure their doctor never makes them feel dismissed and should never hear their doctor make sexist or racist comments or any remarks of a prejudiced nature.
Some questions to ask a doctor include:
- What percentage of your patients have MS?
- What, in your experience, is the outlook for a person like me?
- How often should I expect to see you?
- How do you handle disagreements with patients?
- What treatments do you most often recommend?
- If my insurance doesn’t cover a particular treatment, can you work with me on alternatives?
- What number do I call if I have an urgent question? Can I email you directly?
- How long does it typically take to get an appointment?
- Will you work with my other providers?
- What is your position on alternative and complementary medicine?
An MS specialist can expand a person’s treatment options, advise about lifestyle and dietary changes, and ensure they get the most innovative treatments.
Ask a PCP or other provider for a referral, and use an MS specialist as the starting point for all MS and medication questions.