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.