The Importance of Preventive Care

MS had really taken a toll on my new patient. Or so I thought…

She came to see me one afternoon in my family medicine clinic. Her son pushed her into my exam room, and I moved my stool to make way for her wheelchair. One of her arms was rigid, useless. Her speech was slurred, and she reported terrible back pain. As an MS patient myself, I was disturbed to see her, knowing that my fate could be similar.

“How long have you had MS?” I asked.

“Oh, 20 years, at least,” she said, pausing to clear her throat. “But I was doing OK until the stroke last year.”

Stroke? What?

It was a stroke that caused all these problems?

As I unraveled her story, I learned I was wrong about her MS. Before the stroke, she had been an active hiker and traveler. I don’t think she had seen a doctor much either, except perhaps to treat her MS. And I don’t think anyone had ever checked her cholesterol.

I was startled to see how high her cholesterol was, when I got her test results back a few days later. I immediately started her on medication. Now I had found a reason for her stroke... and a critical reminder to me, as an MS patient: Don’t overlook preventive care!
Preventive care encompasses everything from screening for cancer, diabetes, and high cholesterol to getting immunizations, dietary guidance, and smoking cessation. It doesn’t get the same attention, headlines, or research dollars as breakthrough medications for advanced cancer or complex new surgical techniques, but it is important.

Especially for those of us with MS, preventive care is often overshadowed by more urgent matters. MRIs may be more critical than mammograms; seeing the neurologist may take precedence over seeing the family physician. I know when I was required recently to go in for a check-up with my primary care doctor, I complained, “I already see so many doctors! I don’t want to go to another medical appointment!”

But preventive care should be a top priority for everyone with MS, adding quality and longevity to our lives. With preventive care, we can detect and remove colon polyps before they become cancer. We can identify osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) and treat it before a fracture occurs. We can and do prevent millions of infectious diseases every year through vaccinations. And perhaps my patient, had she been screened and treated for high cholesterol years before, could have prevented her stroke.

Those of us with MS may also be inclined to blame MS for every ailment, as I started to do when I assumed my patient’s disability was due to MS. We shouldn’t. For example, fatigue, though so common with MS, can also be due to a myriad of other conditions like anemia, underactive thyroid, depression or sleep apnea. Checking in regularly with a primary care doctor is an important way to ensure other symptoms and concerns are addressed.

If I’m stuck with MS, I’m going to make sure I do everything I can to prevent another chronic disease. That means getting up every morning to exercise, making sure I eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, and sleeping at least seven hours every night. That means seeing my primary care doctor for screening tests and reviewing new symptoms – that may or may not be due to MS.

Despite my best efforts to stay healthy, I still got MS at age 36. Illness can be random and mysterious, but I haven’t let it stop me from seeking new challenges, prioritizing preventive care, and doing whatever I can to stay at healthy as possible.

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Tags Healthcare, Healthy Living, Symptoms      2 Appreciate this
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Lisa Doggett

Lisa Doggett, MD, MPH is a family physician, writer, and MS Warrior (diagnosed in 2009). She lives with her husband and two daughters in Austin, Texas. Learn more about her and her journey with MS at

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  • nancy   Dec 11, 2019 11:20 PM
  • Avatar
    MS_Navigators  Dec 12, 2019 11:18 AM
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    maria1  Dec 12, 2019 8:31 PM
  • Ben Marshall   Dec 19, 2019 10:37 AM
    Great advice and I will follow this sooner joint curtain. I do occasionally much is on the daily bases as soon as I wake up and get up trauma I also go to the gym to use up the men please, do yoga, And meditate daily. I’m sure all these things contribute to me managing my primary progressive Multiple Sclerosis.
  • Joyce T   Dec 19, 2019 1:08 PM
    Hi Dr. Doggett
    Wow thank you for sharing this story
    MS is really hard to DEAL with and live regular
    I was diagnosed in September 2019 and it seems like since then I feel more depressed and lost
    It's scary but I am not going to let this take me down
    I have two small boys to care for alone
    With God
    Thank you
    Please advise if anything else I can do to stay a float
  • Iamme  Dec 19, 2019 2:09 PM
    For Joyce T. I have had MS since childhood. I became a single mother.My kids are now adults. I want you to know this can be done. Some days I felt I couldn’t do it. But I did. So glad your reaching out to the blog. Give yourself credit for what you are doing. Remember like on the airlines put your mask on first. Indulge in some form of self care. Your worth it.
  • CJ Strampe   Dec 19, 2019 5:07 PM
    Great article. I appreciate hearing comments made that I, myself, can and have made. Thank you for sharing.
  • Munguti Martha   Dec 26, 2019 12:11 AM
    I feel all alone no information one day I wake up my hearing is affected I cannot get phone instructions the other day my eye sight is bad I have changed my lenses the difference is negligible
  • Robin   Dec 26, 2019 2:33 PM
    I have said the exa same things!! I was diagnosed with Primary Progressive MS in 2018...BUT I started getting symptoms in 2008. It took me that long to get a diagnosis. The doctors thought it was something else....or they just didn’t know what I had.
    Going to the doctor is a part (or should be) a part of our lives now weather we like it or not. Our bodies need extra monitoring to make sure we don’t get anything to set up back....or make it worse. I learned that the hard way.
    So..... go to the doctors and stay on top of your health. That is our jobs now....looking out for us!
  • Katherine (Kathy) Dalby   Dec 27, 2019 6:52 PM
    Yes my name is Kathy and I have MS. And I have had it since 1998 and I was 21 and I raised 3 Kids on my own. I have found if you look at everyday like a new day and don’t think about the MS. Enjoy life because life is to short.