Nov. 23, 2009 -- Childbirth appears
to slow the progression of multiple sclerosis, whether a woman gives birth
before her diagnosis or after, according to a Belgian study.
Women whose children were born after MS began were even more likely to have
a slower progression of disease than those who children were born before
symptoms began, compared to childless women, the researchers found.
''Although the largest difference was found between the women who had
children after the onset of MS compared to the women without children, all
patients who gave birth at any point in time seemed to do better than those who
did not have children," says researcher Marie D'hooghe, MD, a neurologist at
the National Multiple Sclerosis Center, Melsbroek, Belgium. The study is
published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and
The findings, however, shouldn't make childless women feel guilty they
didn't ''help'' their disease by becoming pregnant, nor should it be a
reason to attempt pregnancy, says Patricia O'Looney, PhD, vice president of
biomedical research at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, who reviewed
the study for WebMD..
MS is an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system, accounting for
the most frequent cause of disability in young adults. Early symptoms, which
can come and go, include tingling, numbing, loss of balance, and blurred vision. As the disease
progresses, loss of balance and muscle coordination can make walking
Previous research has shown that MS tends to remit during pregnancy. ''The
short-term effects of pregnancy on the course of MS have been repeatedly
confirmed, with a lower relapse risk during the second and especially the third
trimester and an increased relapse risk in the postpartum period," D'hooghe
says. "As for the long-term effects, the findings have been mixed. Most studies
did not find a long-term effect of childbirth on the disease course in MS."
For the study, D'Hooghe and her colleagues evaluated 330 women with MS, with
an average of 18 years with the disease, between 2005 and 2007. All women had
been referred to one center in Belgium and all had experienced their first
symptoms from age 22 to about 38.
Eighty of the study participants had no children, 170 had given birth before
their symptoms began, 61 had given birth after symptoms developed, and 19 had
given birth both before and after giving birth.
D'hooghe evaluated which women at the end of the study had disease that had
progressed to the point of needing a cane, crutch, or brace to walk 100 meters
(about 328 feet). This category of disability is called Expanded Disability
Status Scale or EDSS 6.
Childbirth affected the speed of progression of MS, the researchers found.
After an average of 18 years, 55% had reached EDSS 6. Among the
Women who had given birth to one or more children at any point -- before or
after symptoms began -- were 34% less likely than childless women to progress
to EDSS 6.
Women whose children were born after symptoms began were 39% less likely to
progress to EDSS 6 than childless women -- even taking into account the age at
which symptoms began.