A Vanderbilt expert sets the record straight on common misconceptions about multiple sclerosis.
1. Multiple sclerosis is a terminal illness.
Moses: The average person with MS lives anywhere from seven to nine years less than a person without MS. MS is not a disease that really affects patient mortality in a significant way. However, it does affect what we call “morbidity,” which is about disability. So, a number of people over time can have more disability as a result of MS. It typically doesn’t shorten lifespans very much.
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2. Only old people get the disease.
Moses: That’s absolutely false. Of all the chronic neurological illnesses that exist, MS is the one that affects people at the youngest age. The average person with MS is 29 years of age when diagnosed; whereas with other chronic illnesses such as dementia, ALS and Parkinson’s disease, people are typically diagnosed after 50.
3. MS will leave a patient paralyzed or disabled in every case.
Moses: No, absolutely not true. In fact, there are a number of people who have fully functional lives for extended periods of time after their diagnosis and some people even reach the end of their lives with no disability from their MS.
4. Women with MS can’t get pregnant or breastfeed if they’ve recently given birth.
Moses: Not true. Breastfeeding has been shown in some recent studies to help prevent relapses in the postpartum period. It seems to be relatively helpful if a woman can exclusively breastfeed for a period of at least three months after she’s given birth. Breastfeeding can help with her MS as well.
5. MS is curable.
Moses: No. Unfortunately, like almost all chronic illnesses, MS is not curable.
6. MS patients should cut back on physical activity and avoid the gym.
Moses: Oh no. Physical activity is key for patients to maintain functionality. For folks, especially as they have more chronic MS or problems with their gait, physical activity is the one thing that can help preserve the ability to be more functional and walk.