Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that affects the brain and spinal cord.
It is one of the main causes of neurological disability of non-traumatic origin in young adults, it is estimated that it affects between 2.3 and 2.5 million people worldwide. Despite this, it is a condition that is often misunderstood. Here we review the main myths around it.
Myth 1: MS is always fatal
MS is a lifelong condition, but this does not necessarily mean that it is fatal. There is evidence that having MS can reduce a person’s life expectancy by around seven years.
However, it has also been recorded that in recent years the average lifespan of people with MS seems to be slowly increasing. This is because experts continue to research and develop new treatments for this disease, helping MS to have less and less of an effect on people’s lives.
Myth 2: MS is caused by an injury
MS is an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system destroys the fatty substance that covers and protects nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord (myelin), causing messages sent through that nerve fiber to be slowed down or interrupted .
- What you can do to strengthen the immune system
Currently, the cause(s) of MS is unknown, it is not known why it occurs in some people while not in others. Researchers argue that it may be due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Myth 3: MS is a contagious condition
This is false, in no case is MS contagious.
Myth 4: MS only affects the ability to walk
That’s not true. The signs and symptoms of MS can be very different from one person to another, and even during the course of the disease. This is due to the location of the affected nerve fibers. Symptoms usually include mobility problems, such as:
- Numbness or weakness in one or more extremities that typically occurs on one side of the body at a time, or in the legs and trunk.
- Electric shock sensations that occur with certain movements of the neck, especially bending it forward.
- Tremors, lack of coordination, or unsteady gait.
However, vision problems can also occur, such as loss of vision (partial or complete), or blurred or double vision, sexual problems, slurred speech, fatigue, dizziness, anxiety, depression, or difficulty swallowing.
Myth 5: Only older adults develop MS
On the contrary, most people with MS experience their first symptoms between the ages of 20 and 40, although it is a disease that can appear at any age.
Myth 6: People with MS should not get pregnant
A widespread myth is that MS can hamper efforts to get pregnant and cause problems during pregnancy, however this is nothing more than a myth.
Experts say that if a person has MS, it does not mean they are more likely to experience miscarriage or birth defects. In turn, pregnancy does not increase the risk that MS symptoms will worsen in the long term.
Myth 7: People with MS cannot work
This is another widespread myth, but the truth is that people with MS usually continue to work long after they are diagnosed.
In some cases they may decide to leave their jobs, usually after experiencing their first major exacerbation, but authorities such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society point out that it is a decision that is often taken lightly, at a time when unawareness in around symptomatology can influence judgment.
Today, there are therapies, new technologies, and even community resources that help manage symptoms, allowing people to keep their jobs.
Even a regular job provides benefits for people with MS as, as well as offering financial security, it can bring physical and mental well-being.
Myth 8: People with MS should not exercise
Due to the symptoms of MS, one can come to believe that exercise should be avoided, but the truth is that researchers point out that physical activity is beneficial for this condition, mainly because it helps to control many of its symptoms, starting from improving strength and balance.
Depending on the stage of MS, a supervised exercise program will be necessary to avoid any type of problem.
Myth 9: MS can be cured
Recently, many products claiming to be effective in curing MS have been disseminated (mainly via the Internet). Professionals claim that this is nothing more than false advertising as, to date, there is no cure for this condition.
However, there are different treatments whose goals are to stop the progress of the disease, control its symptoms and help the person maintain a normal quality of life.
Myth 10: If symptoms are mild, no treatment is needed
Health professionals say that even if MS symptoms are mild, it’s important to get treatment. During the early stages, the condition may not cause too many problems, however, early treatment and long-term follow-up help slow the progression of the disease.
Sources consulted: US National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, National Multiple Sclerosis Society.