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 Psychiatry.
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 difficult.
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.