Learning more about multiple sclerosis causes can lead to a better understanding of the disease and outlook for patients. Many commonly held beliefs about multiple sclerosis are myths rather than reality. Accurate information however can help make this disease less daunting.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating and disabling disease that affects the brain, spinal cord, and central nervous system. The body’s immune system attacks the protective sheath that insulates nerve fibers, causing communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body. In time, the disease can cause permanent damage or deterioration to the nerves.
Symptoms can vary depending on the amount of nerve damage and which nerves are affected. Some people with severe MS may lose the ability to walk independently, while others experience periods of remission without any new symptoms.
There’s no cure for multiple sclerosis. Proper treatments can speed the recovery from attacks, and eventually, change the course of the disease, helping manage symptoms. You may be wondering if there are ways to prevent MS and what multiple sclerosis causes are most common.
Multiple sclerosis causes remain unknown. MS is thought to be triggered by a number of factors. To identify the potential causes, research is ongoing in the areas of:
By better understanding what causes MS will speed the process of finding more effective ways to treat it and cure it, and possibly prevent it from occurring in the first place.
Dispelling some of the most common multiple sclerosis myths is a good way to gain a better understanding of how to live and control the disease.
Myth #1: If your current symptoms aren’t a problem, you don’t need treatment. Experts now suggest that most people with MS, even in the early stages should consider getting treatment right away. Disease-modifying drugs can cut the number of attacks and make them somewhat less severe. They may also slow down the disease. In many proven cases, the sooner you begin them, the better chance you’ll manage MS long term.
Myth #2: MS is an old person’s disease. It’s actually more common in younger people — ages 20 to 50. But it can also affect people at any age, from younger children to much older adults. Multiple sclerosis is usually more common in women than in men. Experts think that hormones may play a role.
Myth #3: If I have children, they’ll get MS too. The chance that your children will acquire the disease is a bit higher than average, but still very low. Only 3 out of 100 kids born to parents with MS, will ever get it. That means 97 children will not.
Genetics can play some role in multiple sclerosis, but the condition doesn’t pass directly from parent to child. It appears that some genes may increase the chances of having MS, but there are other triggers for the disease.
Myth #4: Stress is dangerous for people with MS. There’s no solid proof that everyday stress stress for people with multiple sclerosis can put them at risk.
Most people don’t have to turn down opportunities because they think they might be stressed. It’s not a good idea to avoid challenges and overprotect yourself, because the result could make you start to feel isolated and restless.
Myth #5: People with MS can’t work. There is no reason to quit your job just because you’ve been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Some people with the disease may eventually decide to make a career change. But many people don’t, and they continue to work for decades.
Work is often important to our sense of mobility and independence. If symptoms crate challenges currently at work, they could possibly change or go away with time.
Myth #6: Everyone with MS eventually needs a wheelchair. Only about one-third of people with multiple sclerosis rely on wheelchairs 20 years after diagnosis.
MS does affect muscle strength, gait, mobility, and flexibility, but not for everyone. Scientific research has shown that only one in three people with MS use wheelchairs two decades following diagnosis. Some people may use canes or other devices for walking assistance.
Myth #7: People with MS should not exercise. Exercise can help ease multiple sclerosis symptoms. The most important thing: Don’t overdo it.
An active lifestyle can be a positive factor for people with MS to maintain strength and mobility. Hydrotherapy, yoga, hippotherapy (horses), and other activities can make a real difference. Many years ago, people with MS were told not to exercise. However, Jimmie Heuga, an Olympic medalist who was later diagnosed with MS, changed the mindset in the field of MS treatment about exercise. You should always check in with your physician before you start any fitness program.
Myth #8: People with MS shouldn’t get pregnant. Pregnancy does not speed up the course or the effects of MS. If you have unrecognized MS, symptoms during pregnancy could occur. Some studies have discovered that MS symptoms actually can decrease in pregnancy and increase after delivery.
The disabling effects of the disease may make it difficult to carry a pregnancy. Muscle weakness and coordination problems may increase the likelihood of falls. There is no evidence that MS causes infertility. Several studies have diagnosed that pregnancy, delivery, and birth defects are not all that much different in women with MS compared with those without it.
Myth #9: If I have MS, so will my children. Having MS in your family doesn’t necessarily mean you’re destined for the disease. You may share some of the genetic markers, but you may not share all of the environmental exposure, all of the genes necessary, or a particular event that triggers MS.
MS in the family does increase your risk. The MS Trust in England reviewed numerous studies that suggest lifetime risks when someone in the family has a diagnosed case.
Myth #10: MS is always fatal. Although no known cure exists for MS, there’s good news about life expectancy. Because multiple sclerosis isn’t a fatal disease, many people who have MS essentially have the same life expectancy as the general population.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), people who have MS can expect to live relatively normal life spans. Except in the case of severe MS, which is rare, the prognosis for longevity is generally favorable.