7 Myths About Multiple Sclerosis, Debunked
What's fact and what's fiction? This is what you can really expect if you—or someone you love—has been diagnosed.
Getty ImagesThe Myth: MS is a death sentence
The facts: Life expectancy is normal or close to normal for most people with MS. "We think of it as a chronic disease that can be managed," says Nancy L. Sicotte, MD, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Program at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. "Many people live full and active lives."
The Myth: You'll need a wheelchair
The facts: Many people with MS will never end up in a wheelchair or need any other assistive device to get around. "When patients come in after their diagnosis, they are usually devastated because they think it means that they will be in a wheelchair in five years, but this is simply not true," Dr. Sicotte says. In fact, thanks to earlier detection and better treatments, you can't assume that you'd know for sure if someone has MS.
The Myth: Everyone's MS follows the same path
The facts: This is not your neighbor's MS or your mother's or that celebrity you follow on Twitter's. The truth is, no two cases of MS are alike. Some people have mild numbness in the limbs; others may develop severe paralysis or loss of vision. "You can't even look at family members who have MS to say, ‘This is how my MS will behave,'" says Carrie Lyn Sammarco, DrNP, a nurse practitioner at the Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center at the NYU Langone Medical Center.
The Myth: Only old people get MS
The facts: MS is not a disease of aging. Most people get it in their 20s, 30s or 40s. That said, young children, teens and even seniors can develop MS. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society reports that 200 people in the United States are diagnosed every week.
The Myth: Women with MS can't get pregnant
The facts: Pregnancy may actually be a good thing for women with MS. The majority will go into remission during their third trimester, although many relapse after delivery. There is even a growing body of evidence that pregnancy can lower a woman's risk of developing MS in the first place. One Australian study showed that women with at least one child were about 50 percent less likely to develop MS than those without kids. The reduction of risk becomes even greater with each subsequent pregnancy. Researchers don't know why that's the case, but they suspect that hormones are a factor.
The Myth: MS risk is all in your genes
The facts: Genes do play a role, but they are not the be-all and end-all. "If you have multiple sclerosis, there will most likely be other cases of MS or autoimmunity in your family, but this is just part of the equation," Dr. Sicotte explains. Your risk of MS is about 20 times higher if you have an immediate family member with the disease, but environmental factors and possibly infectious agents may also determine who develops the disease and who doesn't.
The Myth: MS is curable
The facts: Unfortunately, there is no cure yet. That said, long-term remission is possible for many people. Some may never experience any further symptoms after being diagnosed, but evidence of progression can still pop up on new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the brain. "MRI changes occur 7 to 10 times as frequently as clinical activity," Dr. Sicotte says. The good news is that there are more treatments available today than ever before—and advances in stem cell transplants, as well as other cutting-edge technology, may one day lead to a true cure.