If you're getting a lot of confusing advice about living with multiple sclerosis, you're not alone. Friends may be quick to offer suggestions, but sometimes they just repeat old myths.
Getting the facts straight can help you lead a full life.
Myth: Women with MS shouldn't get pregnant.
"This is a definite myth," says Matthew McCoyd, MD, a neurologist and MS specialist at Loyola University Medical Center near Chicago.
Many studies over the past 40 years suggest that pregnancy can actually reduce the number of MS flares, especially in the second and third trimesters.
"While pregnancy is obviously an intensely personal decision, MS should not play a significant role in the decision," he says.
MS treatment options do change during pregnancy, though. Talk to your doctor if you're considering becoming pregnant.
Myth: All people with MS will need a wheelchair.
Most people with MS don't become severely physically disabled. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, two-thirds remain able to walk.
But many will need a walking aid such as a cane, crutches, or a walker.
"Some people who are able to walk choose to use a motorized scooter over long distances so that they still have energy left to enjoy an event or activity once they get there," says Rosalind Kalb, PhD. Kalb is vice president of clinical care at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
It's true that you many need to think differently about how you move around, but you don't need to stop moving. Staying mobile lets you keep doing the things that make life meaningful and enjoyable.
Myth: You shouldn't exercise if you have MS.
"Actually, you should exercise if you have MS," McCoyd says. Physical activity is good for your overall health and can help you manage MS symptoms.
Exercise improves strength, endurance, and balance. It also helps:
- Bowel function
- Overall quality of life
But there are special considerations. "Becoming overheated while exercising can worsen symptoms of MS," says Daniel Bandari, MD. Bandari is the medical director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center of California and Research Group in Newport Beach, Calif.
Stay cool by taking frequent breaks. Try to exercise in the morning, when it's not too hot.
Your exercise program should be tailored to your abilities and limitations. It may need to be adjusted when your symptoms change. You can get help in putting together a routine from a physical therapist who has experience with MS patients.
Myth: You have to stop working if you have MS.
If you've just been diagnosed, don't jump to the conclusion that you should stop working. Well-meaning friends and family may suggest that you avoid the strains of work and stay home and rest. But there's no need to "make a career" of MS, Kalb says.
"People who quit work to avoid the stress quickly find that being unemployed brings its own set of stresses," she says. "And life without the stimulation of work and the relationships with fellow workers can feel very empty."
The fact is, most people retire with MS, not from it, McCoyd says.
Myth: MS is a deadly disease
In rare cases, patients with very severe disability may die prematurely of complications such as pneumonia. But you can prevent most complications by treating your MS symptoms and getting regular preventive health care.
If you have significant mood changes, talk to your doctor.