Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms come in many shapes and sizes! Early diagnosis of multiple sclerosis is important to minimise the long-term disability that could ensue if you don’t take corrective action. During the early days of living with MS, you may be unaware of the potential problems, like breathing difficulties.

But why can multiple sclerosis cause problems with your ability to breathe? Like so many things, we take breathing for granted. However, there is a lot involved in aspirating correctly.

Our brain must detect the oxygen levels in our blood and increase or breathing rate to maintain the optimal level.

It is also our brain that controls the muscles that expand the chest to draw air into the lungs. If we cannot control our muscles accurately, we may fail to pull enough air into the lungs and our blood oxygen level can fall.

Muscle weakness is common in MS. Multiple Sclerosis also limits our mobility, so maintaining muscle strength becomes much more difficult.

Furthermore, on very rare occasions, MS can damage the nerves in the brain stem. This is the part of the brain that controls our basic life functions, like breathing.

Breathing Problems in MS

Apart from the discomfort of laboured breathing, there are the knock-on effects of poor breathing:

  • Poor sleep has major implications for general health and fatigue levels.
  • Reduced oxygen levels in the blood impair thinking abilities and increase the occurrence of brain fog.
  • Weakened Cough ability. This can increase the likelihood of chest infections when airways cannot be cleared of dust and food particles.
  • When breathing is laboured, the increased effort can exacerbate fatigue.
  • Reduced ability and inclination to speak can worsen isolation and loneliness.

All of this is dealt with far more eloquently by the MS Trust.

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Respiration a Vital Life Function

Breathing, Blood circulation and digestion all come under the control of the autonomic nervous system. It is very unusual for this part of the nervous system to be directly attacked by MS disease activity.

Inhaler for breathing problems with MS
Image courtesy of MS Focus Magazine

Problems with respiration are far more likely to be caused by muscle weakness or strength in the ventilatory muscles in the chest and abdomen.

Respiration problems can appear early in the MS Journey and may worsen over time. While you are gasping for breath, talking will be difficult. The ability to speak with clarity is very important in our daily conversations.

If your breathing problems cannot be managed with your exercise routine, your healthcare team may suggest a therapy program to strengthen your ventilatory muscles.

Everybody who is facing a life with MS can benefit from breathing exercises in their general wellness routine.

See what the National Multiple Sclerosis Society has to say about respiratory problems.

Breathing Difficulties Possible Causes

If you are experiencing breathing difficulties and you have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, You can be excused for thinking the two are related.

However, breathing issues caused by MS are very rare and conditions like bronchitis, pneumonia or allergies are much more common.

We take breathing for granted, it is not a process we need to think about. The actions of breathing come under the control of our autonomic nervous system and performed without any conscious thought.

Furthermore, breathing difficulties will have a knock-on impact on your ability to speak clearly. And, more worryingly, these breathing difficulties might be the cause of a condition known as aspiration pneumonia.

If food, liquid, or other particles are accidentally inhaled into your lungs and become infected, aspiration pneumonia can be the result.

What can you do to ease these problems?

  • Seek medical advice as your doctor can refer you to more specialized help.
  • See a respiratory therapist who can provide a pulmonary evaluation to design a care plan of breathing exercises.
  • A speech-language pathologist can develop a plan of care with compensatory strategies for swallowing and speaking that may help with your breathing problems.
  • Stop Smoking as smoking has serious implications for your MS prognosis.

Breathing difficulties can seriously impact your quality of life. Seek help and read the full article here.

When MS attacks your lungs

Everyday Health reports that brain lesions could change your lung function, says Zulma Hernandez-Peraza, MD, a neurologist at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System in Chicago.

Although this possible change in lung function was not elaborated upon.

Lesions that interrupt the signals from the brain to the lungs can give rise to a condition called central sleep apnea, in which breathing stops and restarts repeatedly during sleep. If you wake up abruptly with shortness of breath or wake with chest pain, you could have central sleep apnea.

I know that I have sleep apnea, which causes me no problem, but it worries my wife greatly when I stop breathing.

Furthermore, I know that I snore and this can also be an MS symptom. A condition that is known as obstructive sleep apnea which is a more common form of sleep apnea. This can happen when the upper airway becomes intermittently obstructed if the muscles that normally keep the airway open become slack due to lesions in the brain or spinal cord.

A lesion in the cervical spine creates the ‘MS hug‘ sensation, which can cause the feeling of shortness of breath.

Spasms in the intercostal muscles (the small muscles between the ribs) cause the MS hug.

Some medications can do nothing to help breathing, The Disease-Modifying-Drug (DMD) Gilenya (fingolimod) can reduce some lung function. Additionally, tranquillizers, muscle relaxants, and opioids can also slow or reduce breathing.

Read the full Everyday Health article here.

Understanding Respiratory Problems

MS is not, generally, associated with respiratory problems. But, breathing problems can occur in advanced Multiple Sclerosis.

However, shortness of breath or dyspnea is much more common in MS.

But, even mild breathing difficulties can sap your energy and inhibit your desire to take even moderate exercise.

When you develop breathing problems, you may be completely unaware of the insidious approach.

Look for the subtle signs
The symptoms of mild breathing problems can be very difficult to spot.
  • Feeling a lack of air or mild claustrophobia
  • Hiccups or hiccoughs
  • Tickly cough
  • A preponderance to sigh

If MS begins to have a greater effect on your intercostal muscles, you can experience more symptoms:

  • Feel as if you are breathing with a blanket on your head.
  • The sensation of having a heavy weight on your chest.
  • Unable to inhale fully (take a deep breat)

In very rare circumstances, breathing difficulties may be sufficiently profound to require medical intervention.

Read the full VeryWell Health article.

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Breathing Problems with Multiple Sclerosis

Stephen Walker is a blogger who has been living with Multiple Sclerosis or MS since 1994. He devotes a lot of time to researching this dreadful autoimmune disease, looking for answers and possible treatments.

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