Despite the prevalence of multiple sclerosis across the world, there are many myths that circulate regarding several aspects of the condition. I have five myths below with the factual information included after each one.
Myth #1: Multiple Sclerosis is a terminal illness.
Fact: The medical definition of a terminal illness is one that results in death within a fairly short time and which has zero possibility of recovery. For someone with a terminal illness, death is expected within weeks or months, though sometimes longer. Multiple Sclerosis is a progressive, life-long disease, but not a terminal one. Most people are diagnosed in their 20s or 30s and will, on average, live with the disease 40-50 years. Typically, people with MS live until their mid-70s (barring other illnesses that may occur or unrelated health complications), a reduction in life expectancy of 6-7 years as compared with the general population. With the advent of new and better DMTs for people with RRMS, the average life expectancy may begin to climb as the DMTs reduce the number of relapses in conjunction with the associated increase in disability.
Myth #2: Once diagnosed, you have to give up working.
Fact: MS is different for everyone – each individual will experience different symptoms at different times and with a different impact those symptoms have on one’s ability to work. Other factors, such as the type of work being done also play into a patient’s ability to continue working. It is common for family, friends, and sometimes even healthcare professionals to advise a person recently diagnosed with MS to stop working. This reasoning could be a misunderstanding of the nature of the disease or because they feel the person is better off without the added stress a work environment can cause. Many MS patients never experience symptoms severe enough to force them to stop working before they’re ready and oftentimes people who make big changes to or leave the workforce immediately after their diagnosis or after their first major relapse regret doing so.
Myth #3: You will end up in a wheelchair.
Fact: For the vast majority of MS patients, this will not be the case. Getting rapidly worse is rare and most people will never need to use a wheelchair on a constant or even regular basis.
Myth #4: You will have to reduce your physical activity.
Fact: Moderate exercise is recognized as an important element to maintaining general good health and wellbeing for all people, even those with Multiple Sclerosis. Some patients may face barriers, for example some of the symptoms associated with the disease may make exercising difficult or require a modified approach to achieve success. There are exercises which can be done sitting or lying down which often work for patients struggling with more conventional exercise plans.
Myth #5: You shouldn’t have children if you have Multiple Sclerosis.
Fact: A person with MS is less likely to have a relapse during their pregnancy, although the risk of a relapse does increase during the first six months postpartum. Pregnancy has no long-term effect on the course of MS and a person with MS is no more likely to experience complications of any variety than a person who does not have MS. While family members do have a slightly increased risk of developing MS, it is small and not a disease that has been proven to be genetically inherited like some other conditions.