Multiple Sclerosis Myths

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Multiple sclerosis is often misunderstood, and for many people, the very name suggests things like permanent disability and visions of wheelchairs.1 The truth is that MS is a manageable disease, and a great many people with MS live active, fulfilling lives.

Here are some common misconceptions about MS, and the facts that will arm you with information and a greater sense of control over the disease.

The Myth: There is no cure for MS, so there’s nothing I can do.

The Facts: While it is true that there is no cure for MS, today there are therapies available to help you manage your MS and the symptoms you may be experiencing. The therapies to treat MS are known as disease-modifying therapies, or DMTs.  In addition, there are many other ways to stay healthy, positive, and to not let MS take over your life.

Just like with many other chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension, thousands of people have found ways to combine medicine, diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes to manage their MS. A simple exercise routine, like regular walking, swimming, or biking, and a sensible diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains make a big difference.2 Talk with your doctor about all the things that you can do to make a positive impact on your life.

The Myth: I’ll never be able to work or do my regular activities again.

The Facts: Most people with MS find ways to keep MS from dictating what they can and cannot do. Most people with MS are still able to do things they’ve always done, and engage in typical, everyday activities. Of course MS is different for everyone, and it can be unpredictable.3 But if you are proactive, positive, and engaged in dealing with your disease, there is no reason to believe that MS cannot be managed.

The Myth: I will end up in a wheelchair sooner or later.

The Facts: MS is treatable, and most patients can manage it with therapy. Today, there are many DMTs that have been proven to slow disease progression and reduce relapses. Some therapies have been proven to delay disability progression in people with MS and the need for walking aids.4 Starting early and staying with it are important. And remember that researchers continue to work on new therapies designed to make managing MS even easier.

The Myth: All MS therapies are the same.

The Facts: There are many differences between the MS therapies available to you today. The good news is that you have choices, and can weigh the pros and cons of different therapies with your doctor to see which one best meets your needs long-term. Do a little homework and compare the differences, and be sure to talk with your doctor.5

The Myth: Because MS can develop slowly, I can wait to start on medication.

The Facts: Experts agree that choosing a therapy and starting as early as possible can make a big difference. Research shows that some of the damage MS can cause is not reversible, so identifying and treating it early is the best way to slow disease progression and reduce the number of relapses or attacks. Only you and your doctor can decide when to start, and which therapy makes the most sense for you. But research shows that the sooner you start, the better your outlook may be.5

The Myth: I have MS, so my children will get MS, too.

The Facts: MS is not classified as a hereditary disease, which means that you will not automatically pass on MS to a child. There are studies, however, suggesting that children who have parents with MS may be more likely to develop the disease. So if you are pregnant or are thinking about starting a family, talk with your doctor, nurse, and healthcare team.6

The Myth: Having a relapse means my medication isn’t working.

The Facts: MS is very unpredictable, and is different for everyone. Some people may experience no attacks or relapses, whereas others may have them every now and then. The best way to stay on top of your MS and to gauge whether your treatment plan is working is to have tests like magnetic resonance imaging regularly, and to talk with your doctor and nurse.3

The Myth: MS is fatal.

The Facts: If you look at the statistics, the life span of people with MS is about the same as the general population. In fact, people with MS are like the general population, and are at risk for the same things like cancer, heart disease, and stroke. People with MS rarely die from MS itself.7

Of course there are forms of MS that progress rapidly and can shorten a person’s life, but they are rare. There are other complications like infections and severe depression that can create problems, especially if left untreated. Generally speaking, however, people live long lives despite their MS.7

The Myth: I had an infection and that definitely triggered my MS.

The Facts: Despite being identified more than 150 years ago, MS remains something of a mystery.8 The cause of MS is not known, though there are several factors that may play a role. These include race, ethnicity, genetics, and environmental factors. Women are more likely to develop MS, as are people of Northern European descent.6 Some studies suggest that certain viruses (like mumps, herpes, and chicken pox) may contribute to the development of MS, but a conclusive link to any viral cause has not yet been found.9

1. Isaksson A-K, Ashlström G. From symptom to diagnosis: illness
experiences of multiple sclerosis patients. J Nurosci Nurs. 2006;38:229-237.
2. Healthy living with multiple sclerosis. National Multiple Sclerosis Society Web site. http://nmss.org/living-with-multiple-sclerosis/healthy-living/index.aspx. Accessed on 11 February 2011.
3. Heesen C, Shäffler N, Kasper J, Mühlhauser I, Köpke S. Suspected multiple sclerosis: What to do? Evaluation of a patient information leaflet. Mult Scler. 2009;15:1103-1112.
4. Lövblad K-O, Anzalone N, Döfler A, et al. MR imaging in multiple sclerosis: review and recommendations for current practice. Am J Neuroradiol. 2010;31:983-989.
5. National Clinical Advisory Board of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society: Treatment Recommendations for Physicians. Expert Opinion Paper: Disease management consensus statement. National Multiple Sclerosis Society: New York, NY; 2007.
6. Who gets Multiple Sclerosis? National Multiple Sclerosis Society Web site. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/about-multiple-sclerosis/what-we-know-about-ms/who-gets-ms/index.aspx. Accessed on 11 February 2011.
7. Dangond F. Multiple sclerosis. Medscape Web site. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1146199-overview. Accessed on 11 February 2011.
8. Rolak LA. The History of MS. National Multiple Sclerosis Society: New York, NY; 2009.
9. A to Z of MS Causes of MS. MS Trust Web site. http://www.mstrust.org.uk/atoz/cause.jsp. Accessed on 11 February 2011.