Seven Common Myths About Multiple Sclerosis

Many people have trouble pronouncing it, let alone understanding exactly what it is, but nearly one million U.S. adults are living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and 200 more are diagnosed every week.

MS is an unpredictable disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks the central nervous system. The resulting damage slows or stops nerve transmission, disrupting the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.

MS can have multiple symptoms, says Patricio Espinosa, M.D., chief of neurology at Baptist Health’s Marcus Neuroscience Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital. More common symptoms include numbness or weakness in one or more limbs; electric-shock sensations that occur with certain neck movements, especially bending the neck forward; tremor, lack of coordination or unsteady gait; problems with speech or slurred speech; double vision, blurred vision or vision loss; fatigue; dizziness, and tingling or pain in parts of your body.

Patricio Espinosa, M.D., chief of neurology, Marcus Neuroscience Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital

With so many different symptoms, and no single test that can aid in its diagnosis, it’s easy to see why MS is often misdiagnosed. While neurologists are trained to recognize its symptoms, Dr. Espinosa says MS is usually the last thing a patient suspects when they experience any of its symptoms. He also says there are a number of myths and misunderstandings surrounding the disease.

MYTH: MS is a death sentence.

FACT: “MS is not a death sentence; for most people with MS, life expectancy is normal or close to normal,” says Dr. Espinosa. “It is a chronic disease, and while there is no cure for MS, there are a range of treatment options available that can, most of the time, stop disease process and reduce its symptoms.”

MYTH: People with MS will need a wheelchair.

FACT: “Most people with MS will never need a wheelchair or other assistive device to get around, as the current treatments available prevent disability,” Dr. Espinosa says.

MYTH: Only old people develop MS.

FACT: Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, according to Dr. Espinosa. “That said, young children, teens, and even seniors can also develop MS,” he says. 

MYTH: MS is on the rise.

FACT: Researchers can’t say for sure that MS is on the rise, Dr. Espinosa says. “We can say that young women have a higher risk of developing MS than men..”

MYTH: Women with MS can’t get pregnant.

FACT: Like with some other autoimmune diseases, pregnancy may actually be a good thing for women with MS, according to Dr. Espinosa. “The majority of women with MS will go into remission during their pregnancy,” he says. “And there is a growing body of evidence that pregnancy can permanently lower a women’s risk of developing MS in the first place.”

MYTH: MS risk is in your genes.

FACT: “Genes do play a role, but they’re not everything,” Dr. Espinosa says. “If you do a detailed family history, there will likely be other cases of MS or autoimmune diseases in the family, but this is just part of the equation.” Dr. Espinosa says the risk for MS is higher if you have a family member with MS, but environmental factors and possibly infectious agents may also play a role in determining who develops MS.

MYTH: MS has been linked to the COVID-19 vaccine.

FACT: “There is no link between COVID-19 and MS, COVID-19 and MS exacerbation or the COVID-19 vaccine and MS risk,” Dr. Espinosa says. “Patients with MS should be vaccinated, but certain medications for MS may need coordination with the vaccination. For example, patients with IV infusions should consult with their MS doctor for the best timing.”

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