Managing MS: Let's get tracking!

It started off as simply counting steps, but lately there's been an explosion of health-related tracking apps and devices that enable you to monitor everything from your heart rate and blood pressure to respiratory rates and even the quality of your sleep. Indeed, the next generation of smart phones is rumoured to be able to track a whole suite of vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation and the like. As with all such revolutions, this development even has a collection of cool names, like "mHealth" and the "quantified self."

72 million wearable devices shipped worldwide last year and some commentators are predicting that health-tracking technology will lead to over 155 million devices shipped by 2019! With so much technology at our disposal, we've never known so much about ourselves.

What do these gadgets have to do with MS?
While it is handy to be able to find out just how long you need to run to burn off that piece of birthday cake, this new technology offers more than just being a toy for the "worried well." For someone with multiple sclerosis, health tracking devices and apps can help you stay in control of your condition by monitoring it over time and allowing you to work with your health care team to ensure the best treatment and disease management.

Capturing and tracking information about what you experience, whether it be good or bad, puts you back in the driver's seat. For instance, you could be able to figure out if your fatigue is largely due to your MS or whether poor sleep quality could be a contributing factor. It may be a long time between your visits to see your neurologist – and when he or she asks how your mood has been over the last 6 months, can you really remember that bad week you had 4 months ago? Providing them with comprehensive information can help inform key decisions about your care.

In addition to general lifestyle appssuch as sleep trackers, pedometers, and mood monitors, there are now apps available specifically designed to help you keep tabs on your MS directly. Free apps, such as the SymTrac™ app, from a drug manufacturer and the MS Trust (a UK charity helping people take control of their MS by providing information, education programs, and funding for research), can help people with MS track general well-being and symptoms over time to build a valuable picture of their health. SymTrac™ allows you to record daily data about symptoms, mood, energy, exercise, medication, and more. This data can be viewed in charts and shared with your MS specialist team. It will help you recognize, record, and report changes in your condition to make the most out of consultations and support decision-making. The app is now available on iPhone and Android.

Keeping tabs on a condition like MS can, to some extent, mean constantly being reminded of it – which may not appeal to everyone. But you can reap rewards by being active in observing how your condition changes over time and working with your doctor or specialist to plan the best approach to treatment and management. Better information could drive positive changes in your diet, lifestyle, or medication. Given the importance of effectively managing MS to delay progression of the disease, it's good for your and your care team to have the opportunity to spot things early.

Can new technology help you manage MS symptoms?
Your neurologist is always tracking – it's their job. Whether they're looking at changes in MRI scans or the presence of lesions (scars that are indicative of ongoing inflammation and damage), tracking is essential to managing the progression of MS.

So how can you help your doctor keep track of everything? Add in some self-reported tracking of relapses or symptom changes you experience, such as weakness, swallowing issues, or bowel and bladder changes, as well as mental changes such as forgetfulness, or difficulties with concentration. These can be key points of discussion to help your neurologist best manage your disease. Ultimately, the more accurate information you can provide for your health care team, the easier it could be for them to understand how MS is affecting you and your life – and what you can do together to improve it. Tracking is now so much more than counting steps, and it's getting more sophisticated all the time.



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