• Lifestyle Changes to Manage Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS)

    Lifestyle changes may be helpful in a variety of important ways:
    • Strengthening your body so that you can withstand some of the rigors of treatment
    • Optimizing the function of your immune system to aid in the fight against cancer
    • Improving your emotional outlook, so you can enjoy life to the fullest, even during treatment for MDS
    • Making healthful choices that will help you avoid other medical problems that could complicate your health
    Most patients with MDS are elderly. Their lifestyle may already have begun to be limited by various medically related conditions of advancing age. The primary problems MDS may cause are decreasing physical ability or interest in favorite activities, an increased risk of serious infections, and an increased likelihood of excess bleeding from injury.

    Manage Decreasing Vitality

    With MDS, you may find your interest in your normal activities declines. Activities you used to enjoy may become a burden, tire you out, or simply not interest you any more. Discuss your feelings openly with your friends, relatives, and doctors. There are many possible ways to rekindle your interest in life. There are also medications for depression that might help. Other general recommendation that may help include:
    • Following a nutritious diet
    • Participating in a reasonable level of exercise
    • Resting when tired
    Follow a Nutritious Diet
    Eating a healthful diet may help you avoid other medical conditions linked to poor nutrition. Because cancer itself and some cancer treatment may have a dulling effect on your appetite, it’s important that you make the most of the calories you do take in. Strongly consider consulting a registered dietitian (RD) to help you learn more about the best kinds of foods for you to eat and how to eat other, less healthful foods in moderation. (Your doctor can refer you to an RD.) Avoid making drastic changes in your diet based on the latest fad diet.
    Participate in a Reasonable Level of Exercise
    If you have not been exercising regularly, check with your doctor to determine a safe exercise program under your current circumstances. Exercise has many benefits that may help you withstand the physical and emotional stresses of MDS and its treatment:
    • Promoting overall fitness
    • Boosting your energy level
    • Improving your immune system functioning
    • Bolstering your spirits and improving your emotional outlook
    You may consider consulting a personal trainer to help you set exercise goals and to safely follow through on initiating an exercise program.
    While incorporating exercise, be sure to balance rest and activities to prevent becoming too tired.
    Rest When Tired
    The treatments for cancer can add to the fatigue you already feel from fighting cancer. In fact, fatigue is the most frequently experienced symptom of cancer and cancer treatments. The fatigue you feel can range from "just feeling tired" to complete and utter exhaustion. Wherever in this range you fall, you may find your fatigue quite distressing and affecting your quality of life.
    It is important to allow your body time to rest. This will help your body have the strength to heal itself. Studies have shown a relationship between fatigue and an increased morbidity of cancer and cancer treatments as a result of fatigue's adverse effect on appetite, diminished quality of life, and loss of hope.
    To help you avoid getting overtired, try not to do too much. Prioritize the things you need to do, and focus on the most important ones. Also, allow others to help you with daily chores, shopping, and preparing meals. Plan times throughout the day when you can rest.

    Reduce Your Risk of Infection

    To decrease your risk of infection, avoid exposure to bacteria and viruses:
    • Try to avoid crowds, especially during cold and flu season.
    • Ask your doctor about immunization against the flu and pneumonia .
    • Wash your hands thoroughly and often. Hand washing is the most effective method of decreasing the chance of catching colds and flu. You may wish to carry hand sanitizer with you for occasions when washing is not convenient.
    Also, take extra care with cuts and scrapes:
    • Cleanse cuts and scrapes thoroughly.
    • Use topical antiseptic.
    • Apply sterile dressings.
    • Tell your doctor about any infection that is worsening.
    Respiratory infections may worsen quickly and become pneumonia. If you have such an infection, tell your doctor right away.

    Manage Increased Bleeding Tendency

    Small injuries may become worse because of MDS. If you notice spontaneous bleeding, perhaps from your nose or when brushing your teeth, unusually heavy bleeding from small wounds, or perhaps from your bowels, urinary system, or vagina, contact your doctor right away. Prolonged pressure on a bleeding site may eventually stop the bleeding, but you need medical treatment to prevent it from recurring.

    Seek Support

    The diagnosis of cancer is life-defining event that is difficult to handle for anyone. It's common to feel anxious about the impact of your diagnosis and treatment options. You do not have to face cancer alone. Get help from your family, friends, and your community, such as:
    • Religious community
    • Support groups for people with your type of cancer
    • Professional support (social workers, psychologists, and/or psychiatrists who are trained to help support cancer patients and their families)
    People who allow themselves to seek help while they are recovering from cancer often maintain better emotional control. This can help you face the challenges of cancer and its treatment.

    When to Contact Your Doctor

    It’s important that you don’t make major lifestyle changes without consulting your doctor and verifying that you are proceeding safely. You are already being physically and emotionally challenged by the presence of cancer and the rigors of treatment. You and your doctor need to work together to make wise lifestyle choices and implement them in the healthiest way possible. Your doctor can provide referrals to an RD, personal trainer, therapist, and support group.

    References

    Castro-Malaspina H, O’Reilly RJ. Aplastic anemia and the myelodysplastic syndromes. In: Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 14th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 1998.

    Cecil RL, Goldman L, Bennett J. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2002: 633-634.

    Conn HF, Rakel. Conn’s Current Therapy. 54th ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2002: 720-721.

    Silverman LR. Myelodysplastic syndrome. In: Cancer Medicine. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.nci.nih.gov/cancer%5Finformation/ . Accessed November 30, 2002.

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