Myths and Facts About Multiple Sclerosis

It's easy these days to pick up wrong-headed ideas about how to manage your multiple sclerosis (MS). Social media can spread unreliable info, and your well-meaning friends may pass along outdated advice.

So take a few minutes now to sort out fact from fiction. That way, false ideas won't put restrictions on your life for no good reason or stop you from trying useful treatments.

Myth: If symptoms aren't a problem, you don't need treatment.

Experts now suggest that most people with MS -- even in early stages -- consider getting treatment right away.

Disease-modifying drugs can cut the number of attacks you get and make them less severe. They may also slow down the disease. In many cases, the sooner you start them, the better you'll manage MS in the long run.

Myth: People with MS wind up in wheelchairs.

At least three out of four people with MS never lose the ability to walk. While some folks in that group might need help with a crutch or cane, they never have movement problems that put them in bed or a wheelchair permanently.

Some experts think that those odds are even better. Many studies of long-term disability were done before people used disease-modifying drugs.

Myth: MS is an old person's disease.

It's actually most common in younger people -- ages 20 to 50. But it can affect people at any age, from young children to older adults.

It's also much more common in women than in men. Experts think that hormones may play a role.

Myth: It's not safe for women with MS to get pregnant.

If you want to have a baby, don't let multiple sclerosis stand in your way. Studies show the disease has no effect on your chances of getting pregnant or having problems during pregnancy. And there won't be any impact on your baby's health.

When you're pregnant, your MS symptoms will probably get better, especially during your second and third trimesters. After you give birth, your odds of a flare are higher for about 3 to 6 months.

Pregnancy has no long-term impact on how MS affects your health. That said, talk to your doctor before you try to become pregnant. You may need some additional care and changes to your medications.

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Myth: If I have kids, they'll get MS too.

The odds that your kids will get the disease are a little higher than average, but still very low. Look at it this way: Out of 100 kids born to parents with MS, only about three will ever get it. That means 97 won't.

While genes play some role in multiple sclerosis, the condition doesn't pass directly from parent to child. It seems that some genes may raise the chances of having MS, but there are other triggers for the disease that we don't completely understand yet.

Myth: Exercise isn't safe if you have MS.

The truth is staying active is essential if you have MS. It can help with symptoms, improve strength and balance, and lower your chances of other health problems.

Check with your doctor before you start exercising. Pushing yourself too hard can trigger fatigue, and getting overheated while you work out may make your symptoms worse. Talk to a physical therapist to come up with a safe routine.

Myth: Stress is dangerous for people with MS.

Getting stressed out isn't a great thing for anyone. But there's no solid evidence that normal, everyday stress is risky for people with multiple sclerosis.

So take care of yourself, but don't feel like you have to turn down opportunities because they might be stressful. If you avoid challenges and overprotect yourself, you may start to feel isolated and restless.

Myth: People with MS can't work.

Don't jump to the conclusion you need to quit your job just because you've been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Sure, some people with the disease eventually decide to make career changes. But lots of people don't, and they continue to work for decades.

Work is often important to our sense of independence, so take your time before you make any big decisions about your career. If your symptoms make work hard right now, remember that they may change or go away with time.

You can also team up with your doctor and employer to find ways to adapt your job to work around barriers. Look into your options and stay open to creative solutions.

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Myth: MS is deadly.

MS may be a lifelong condition, but it's not a deadly one. And people with MS tend to live a long time. One large study found that on average, folks with MS lived to age 76, seven years shorter than people without it.

That gap may continue to shrink over time. While serious complications of advanced MS can be life-threatening, we now know that you can prevent many of them with good treatment and a healthy lifestyle.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on March 20, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: "Study Shows Life Expectancy for People with MS Increasing Over Time, But Still Lower Than the General Population," "Multiple Sclerosis FAQs," "Disease-Modifying Therapies for MS," "9 Myths," "Who Gets MS? (Epidemiology)," "Pregnancy and Reproductive Issues," "Genetics: The Basic Facts," "Exercise," "Talking with Your MS Patients about Difficult Topics," "Employment," "Career Options."

Multiple Sclerosis Foundation's MS Focus: "Common Questions."

Mayo Clinic: "Exercise and Multiple Sclerosis."

Cleveland Clinic: "Exercise & Multiple Sclerosis."

MS International Federation: "Employment and MS."

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