MS and Heart Disease: How They May Be Linked and What You Can Do About It

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How Multiple Sclerosis and Heart Disease May Be Linked

Did you know that multiple sclerosis (MS) and heart disease may have something in common? 😮 Both of these conditions involve an abnormal hardening of body tissue, which can affect your health and quality of life. In this article, we will explore the possible connection between MS and atherosclerosis, the medical term for hardening of the arteries. We will also share some tips on how to prevent and manage these diseases. Let’s get started! 🚀

What is MS and how does it affect your nervous system?

MS is a neurodegenerative disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord. It occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks the protective layer of myelin that covers your nerve fibers. This causes inflammation, scarring, and damage to the nerves, which disrupts the communication between your brain and other parts of your body. MS can cause a variety of symptoms, such as impaired vision, sensory changes, cognitive changes, weakness, pain, fatigue, bowel and bladder problems, and walking difficulties. MS affects about 1 million U.S. adults, and it is more common in women than men. The exact cause of MS is unknown, but it may be influenced by genetic and environmental factors. There is no cure for MS, but treatments can help reduce the frequency and severity of attacks, slow down the progression of the disease, and manage symptoms.

A close-up of a human brain model

What is atherosclerosis and how does it affect your heart?

Atherosclerosis is a condition that affects your arteries, the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from your heart to other organs and tissues. It occurs when fatty deposits called plaque build up inside your artery walls, causing them to thicken and narrow. This reduces the blood flow and oxygen delivery to various parts of your body. Atherosclerosis can lead to serious complications, such as coronary artery disease (CAD), angina (chest pain), peripheral artery disease (PAD), stroke, and kidney problems. Atherosclerosis affects millions of Americans, and it is more common in older adults and people with risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. The causes of atherosclerosis are not fully understood, but they may involve inflammation, oxidative stress, and endothelial dysfunction (damage to the inner lining of the arteries). There is no cure for atherosclerosis, but treatments can help prevent or slow down the plaque buildup, lower the risk of complications, and relieve symptoms.

How are MS and atherosclerosis related?

Recent research suggests that MS and atherosclerosis may be linked by similar processes that involve inflammation, oxidative stress, endothelial dysfunction, and tissue hardening. Here are some examples of studies that show connections between these two diseases:

  • In 2018, a team of Romanian researchers led by Dr. Raluca Ileana Mincu of the University of Medicine and Pharmacy Carol Davila in Bucharest used state-of-the-art echocardiography to conduct heart and vascular assessments in patients with MS. The exams showed that MS patients had more impairments on both sides of the heart compared to healthy people.
  • In 2023, a study led by Raffaele Palladino of Imperial College London followed more than 84,000 people for 10 years, comparing heart health in participants with and without MS. The study found that people with MS were 50% more likely to die from heart disease, 28% more likely to have a heart attack, and 59% more likely to have a stroke.

These findings highlight the importance of comprehensive heart exams for people with MS. Advanced techniques can help detect and prevent life-threatening heart disease in patients who are at high risk. However, this research does not prove that MS causes atherosclerosis or vice versa. More studies are needed to understand the underlying mechanisms that link these two conditions.

How can you prevent or manage MS and atherosclerosis?

While there is no sure way to prevent or cure MS or atherosclerosis, there are some steps you can take to lower your risk of developing or worsening these diseases. Here are some tips to help you:

  • Eat a healthy diet that is low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. A Mediterranean-style diet may be beneficial for both MS and atherosclerosis.
  • Exercise regularly and stay physically active. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week. You can also do strength training exercises at least twice a week. Exercise can help improve your cardiovascular health, reduce inflammation, boost your mood, and manage your weight. If you have MS, consult your doctor before starting an exercise program and choose activities that suit your abilities and limitations.
  • Quit smoking and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke. Smoking can damage your blood vessels, increase inflammation, worsen your MS symptoms, and raise your risk of heart disease and stroke. Quitting smoking can improve your health and lower your risk of complications.
  • Manage your stress levels and practice relaxation techniques. Stress can trigger or worsen MS attacks and increase your blood pressure and heart rate. Stress can also affect your mental health and well-being. Find healthy ways to cope with stress, such as meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, hobbies, or social support.
  • Take your medications as prescribed and follow your doctor’s advice. Depending on your condition and risk factors, you may need to take medications to treat or prevent MS attacks, lower your cholesterol or blood pressure, prevent blood clots, or relieve pain or other symptoms. Do not stop or change your medications without consulting your doctor.
  • Monitor your health and get regular check-ups. Keep track of your symptoms, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, weight, and other health indicators. See your doctor regularly for screenings and tests to assess your heart and nervous system health. Report any changes or concerns to your doctor as soon as possible.

By following these tips, you can improve your quality of life and reduce the impact of MS and atherosclerosis on your health. Remember that you are not alone in this journey. Seek support from your family, friends, health care team, or support groups. You can also find more information and resources from the National MS Society and the American Heart Association. 💗

The Bottom Line

In this article, we have learned that MS and atherosclerosis may be linked by similar processes that involve inflammation, oxidative stress, endothelial dysfunction, and tissue hardening. We have also learned some tips on how to prevent or manage these diseases. We hope that this article has provided you with some useful information and insights on this topic. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to share them below. Thank you for reading! 😊


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