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Childbirth May Slow Progression of MS

Some Multiple Sclerosis Patients Have Slower Progression of Disease if They've Given Birth

Evaluating Progress of MS continued...

''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.

Even so, she says, "there are still some women with MS who need to be cautious about pregnancy." Among those are women with aggressive disease or frequent relapses, she says.

Another consideration, she adds, is that the standard of care is not to take MS drugs during pregnancy. "I would caution people not to jump into pregnancy. Every patient is different."

One strength of the study, says O'Looney, is the length of the follow-up.

But, she adds, ''there might be something else at play here'' in addition to pregnancy affecting disease progression. ''Some women with severe disease may have chosen not to have children."

''The most important thing here for consumers is, we don't want any woman who has MS to feel guilty one way or the other. We don't want someone to read into this and say, 'Oh did I make my MS worse by not having children?'"


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