Top 10 Myths About Multiple Sclerosis
Myths and facts about MS
Most of us know or know of someone with multiple sclerosis (MS), but how much do we really know about this illness? MS is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system misfires against myelin, a fatty substance that insulates the nerve fibers of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves.
Approximately 400,000 people in the U.S. are living with MS, yet there are many misconceptions about the illness (and its prognosis).
Here we debunk the top 10 myths, and tell you what you can really expect if you, or someone you love, has been diagnosed with MS.
MS is a death sentence
It is a life sentence, however, meaning that there is no curealthough there are plenty of treatments to slow MS down and reduce symptoms.
"Many people with MS live full, active lives," says Nancy L. Sicotte, M.D., director of the Multiple Sclerosis Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. "We think of it as a chronic disease that can be managed, but there are a small percentage of people with severe MS who will die from complications."
You'll need a wheelchair
Thanks to earlier detection and better treatments, you can't assume that you'd know someone has MS just by looking at them.
Everyone’s MS follows the same path
"You can’t even look at family members who have MS to say that 'this is how my MS will behave,'"says Carrie Lyn Sammarco, of the Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City."MS varies from person to person, and even within the person."
Only old people get MS
The facts: MS is not a disease of aging. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50. That said, young children, teens, and even seniors can also develop MS.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, approximately 400,000 people in the U.S. have MS—and 200 more people are diagnosed every week.
MS is on the rise
We can say that the gap between women and men with MS is expanding. "We know women are diagnosed with MS more frequently than men, but the ratio is increasing," she says. "It used to be two women for every one man and now it is approaching four women to every one man!"
Women with MS can’t get pregnant
One study of more than 700 Australian women showed that women with at least one child were about 50% less likely to develop MS than women without kids. The reduction was even greater for women with three or more children. Researchers don’t know why this is, but they suspect that hormonal milieu of pregnancy may play a role.
Women with MS can’t breast-feed
Some of the medications used to treat MS flares can’t be taken while breast-feeding. It’s best to discuss your risks and medication with your doctor, but some women can safely breast-feed with MS. Don’t despair, adds NYU’s Sammarco. "We can help develop a plan that allows most women with MS to breast-feed."
MS risk is all in your genes
The facts: "It is clearly an autoimmune disease," Dr. Sicotte says. Genes do play a role, but they are not the be all and end all. "If you do a detailed family history, there will likely be other cases of MS or autoimmunity in the family, but this is just part of the equation."
Risk for MS is about 10 times higher if you have a family member with MS, but environmental factors and possibly infectious agents may play a role in determining who develops MS and who doesn’t.
People with MS should avoid the gym
Many other studies support these findings. Exercise can cause someone with MS to become overheated, which can trigger symptoms, but staying hydrated and balancing activities with rest can help people stay cool."Weight loss can help too if you are overweight" says Dr. Sicotte. "The less you have to move around, the easier it is to move."
MS is curable
"MRI changes occur 7-10 times more frequently than clinical activity," Dr. Sicotte says. The good news is that there are more MS treatments available today than ever before and advances with stem cell transplants and other cutting-edge technologies may one day represent a true cure for MS.