Multiple sclerosis is often misunderstood, and for many people, the very name suggests things like permanent disability and visions of wheelchairs. The truth is that MS is a manageable disease, and a great many people with MS live active, fulfilling lives. That said, the progression of multiple sclerosis differs from person to person, so it's hard to gauge how the disease will affect each individual. There are four recognized disease courses for MS, each of which may include mild, moderate, or severe symptoms. Let’s tackle some of the most common misconceptions regarding MS.
Myth #1: Multiple sclerosis is a fatal disease.
MS is generally not considered a fatal disease. Statistics show that most people with MS have a near normal life span. Most deaths associated with MS are due to complications in advanced, progressive stages of the disease. Early treatment is aimed to slow down the disease progression and help prevent those complications. Infection seems to be a common complication. That said, very severe cases of MS certainly can shorten a patient's life span. Please be aware that patients living with MS are still eligible (just like everybody else) to develop other life-shortening diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
Myth #2: Since there is no cure for MS, there are no treatments for MS.
Wrong! While it is true that there is no cure for MS, we do have treatments available to help manage the disease and the symptoms it causes. There are now six FDA-approved medications that have been shown to modify or slow down the underlying course of MS and several oral drugs are awaiting FDA approval to be added to the disease-modifying arsenal. The wide variety of symptoms which come with MS are outnumbered by the many ways to manage those symptoms through medication, therapy, diet, exercise, lifestyle changes, and technology. A simple exercise routine, like regular walking, swimming, or biking, and a sensible diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can make a big difference. Talk with your doctor about all the things that you can do to make a positive impact on your quality of life.
Myth #3: Everyone with MS ends up in a wheelchair.
Not true. Many people living with MS remain able to walk unassisted, while a smaller number need the help of a mobility aid. Patients with MS may experience mobility issues at anytime depending upon the severity of their relapses and/or symptoms. Some of these patients recover their impaired mobility as the relapse or symptoms resolve. However the likelihood of needing a mobility aid increases the longer someone has MS. In addition, people who are still able to walk may use a wheelchair, cane, scooter, or other device to conserve energy or prevent injury from falls. Only 25% of people with MS use a wheelchair or stay in bed because they are unable to walk, according to a well-designed survey completed before the new disease-modifying drugs became available.