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When a Second Chronic Condition Complicates Multiple Sclerosis
Having MS doesn’t protect you from developing other chronic diseases. See how Bob Noe manages both MS and diabetes.
By Madeline R. Vann, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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As if living withmultiple sclerosis (MS)isn't enough, it's not uncommon to find people with MS coping with other chronic health conditions, too. Just ask Bob Noe.
Noe, 65, of Columbia, South Carolina, had been managing MS for 12 years when type 2 diabetes entered the picture. Noe knew he had an elevated risk of diabetes, because a couple of his relatives had the disease, but it wasn’t at the top of his mind.
The diagnosis came after an injury forced him to put his exercise regimen on hold, and a bout of depressioncaused him to neglect his normally healthy eating habits. Noe then found out firsthand whata lot of people with MS already knew: Many people have to manage multiple health conditions, particularly as they age.
“Having one disease doesn’t mean a person can’t get another,” notes Sharon G. Lynch, MD, director of the MS clinic and a professor of neurology at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City.
“People with MS have to be careful not to become complacent and miss paying attention to the rest of their health,” Dr. Lynch says.
Injury and Depression Lead to Weight Gain
Until his retirement in 2007, Noe worked at a South Carolina public television network, where he was responsible for programming related to healthcare and higher education. Armed with a fair amount of knowledge about health and MS, Noe worked hard to care for his body.
Like many people with MS, Noe isn’t able to walk long distances, so he chose to swim three to four times a week and use weight machines forupper-body strength training. He's also committed tostress managementand meditation.
But several years ago, he injured his leg and couldn’t swim for a few months.
“At the same time, I believe my MS depression was starting to return, and I got into the bad habit of eating a lot of sweets, which are my downfall,” Noe says. Hegained about 15 pounds, topping out at 240.
“I am 6-foot-1 with broad shoulders and decent upper-body muscles,” Noe says, “But my beer belly was beginning to show.”
Just months later, at Noe's annual physical exam, his doctor diagnosed him with type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes Diagnosis Spurs Healthier Habits
Noe’s doctor prescribed the diabetes drugmetforminand encouraged Noe and his wife to adopt a diet that would help manage his diabetes.
“The diet mostly consisted of vegetables, fruit, nuts, and fish," Noe says, "although I did add some chicken breasts and whole wheat pasta.” The diet was similar to the one he'd been following before the leg injury.
“Eliminating both bread and sweets has helped my MS and diabetes," Noe says.
RELATED:Healthy Lifestyle Strategies for People With MS
Noe returned to swimming but had to take a break to try a new medication intended to improve his walking. While on the drug, and sustained another injury, which led to more physical therapy and a longer break from his workout routine. But that's finally behind him.
“Now I think I am on the right track again,” he says.
These days, Noe is not only managing both his MS and diabetes, but he's also sharing his healthy strategies with theNational Multiple Sclerosis Societyorganization he belongs to in South Carolina. He's shared his commitment to healthy living with fellow church members by building a greenhouse at the church.
Is There an MS-Diabetes Link?
“I don’t think there’s necessarily an increase in diabetes that has been reported in patients with MS, but there’s no question thatdevelopment of type 2 diabetesis partially related to exercise and obesity," says Dr. Lynch.
Mobility challenges put a person at greater risk for health conditions related to a sedentary lifestyle, including excess weight. But there are a variety of exercises, such asswimming or water aerobics, and seated forms of yoga and Pilates that can be done by many people with MS.
And although there are few negative interactions between treatments for MS and diabetes, are a notable exception: Steroids are known to raise blood sugar levels. If you have both MS and diabetes and you need to take steroids for any reason, talk to your diabetes care provider about how to control your blood sugar while using this medication.
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