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Multiple Sclerosis Health Center

Childbirth May Slow Progression of MS

Some Multiple Sclerosis Patients Have Slower Progression of Disease if They've Given Birth
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Evaluating Progress of MS continued...

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 findings:

  • 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.

''These results are encouraging but do not mean that women with MS who have children are free from progression of disease," D'hooghe writes in an email interview with WebMD.

Women who did not have children after symptoms began progressed to the EDSS 6 category in about 13 to 15 years, while those who did have children after onset of symptoms took 22 or 23 years to reach EDSS 6.

When the researchers looked at those whose disease began before age 30 -- to rule out effects due to age -- they found that the average age of progression to EDSS 6 was 37 among the childless, but 43 among those who gave birth after the diagnosis.

Exactly why pregnancy seems to slow disease progression isn't known, but it could be that sex hormones secreted during pregnancy may change the body's immune response and slow down damage.

''Hormonal effects might play a role," D'hooghe says.

Second Opinions

The new research "ought to relieve at least some of the concerns of patients about how they are going to do with their disease [after pregnancy]," says Maria Houtchens, MD, a neurologist at Partners Multiple Sclerosis Center at Brigham & Women's Hospital and an instructor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, Boston, who has published on the topic.

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