Top 10 Common Myths about MS -- Busted!

by Lisa Emrich Patient Advocate

We've all heard them...

Multiple sclerosis is often misunderstood, and for many people, the very name suggests things like permanent disability and visions of wheelchairs. But according to HealthCentral's MS expert Lisa Emrich, the truth is that MS is a manageable disease, and a great many people with MS live active, fulfilling lives.

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. That said, very severe cases of MS certainly can shorten a patient's life span.

There is no treatment 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. As of November 2016, there are fourteen FDA-approved medications that have been shown to modify or slow down the underlying course of MS, including three oral drugs, three infusion therapies, and eight injectables.

Related: FDA-Approved Disease-Modifying Therapies for Multiple Sclerosis

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. Only 25 percent of people with MS use a wheelchair or stay in bed because they are unable to walk, according to a survey completed before the new disease-modifying drugs became available.

Multiple sclerosis isn't a physically painful condition

People often associate MS with numbness and mobility issues, but that doesn't mean that many patients don't also experience physical pain. According to one study, up to 55 percent of MS patients experienced clinically significant pain, whether acute or chronic, at some point during the course of the disease.

People diagnosed with MS must go on disability

There is no scientific evidence that the normal stress of working has any effect on MS. But symptoms, such as fatigue, may need to be managed while on the job. About 30 percent of people with MS are working full time after 20 years. The National MS Society thinks that number could be higher.

People with MS shouldn’t have children

Pregnancy and childbirth have no long-term effect on MS. In fact, many women notice that their MS symptoms decrease during pregnancy, which is the reason why estriol is being studied as a potential MS treatment. But the risk of an MS relapse does increase somewhat in the six months after delivery. In general, there's no reason why women with MS can't give birth nor be an excellent parent.

Multiple sclerosis only affects white people

It’s true that the prevalence of MS in the United States is higher in whites than in other racial groups, but that doesn't mean it affects only Caucasians. What's more, according to a study supported by the National MS Society, African Americans with the condition are more likely to experience a more aggressive course of disease.

MS is caused by heavy metals or diet

Although scientists have yet to identify a single cause for MS, they do know that it's not the result of a poor diet, negative attitude, or heavy-metal poisoning from dental fillings or other environmental sources. Current data suggests that MS is caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors, with some studies indicating that hormones and certain viruses may also play a role.

Natural treatments are "safer" and more effective than prescriptions

Controversy continues to rage about the value of alternative approaches to treating disease. Advocates of alternative medicine claim that conventional medicine is ignoring or suppressing treatments that can ease symptoms or even cure some diseases, while opponents want patients to stick to treatments proven to be both safe and effective.

MS is easy to diagnose

Not really. It can take years for an accurate diagnosis to be made. The current diagnostic criteria makes it easier to make a definite diagnosis, but it still requires that evidence of demyelination is seen at two points in time and in different locations within the central nervous system. This can take time.

Lisa Emrich
Meet Our Writer
Lisa Emrich

Living with multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid Arthritis, Lisa Emrich is an award-winning, passionate patient advocate, health writer, classical musician, and backroad cyclist. Her stories inspire others to live better and stay active. Lisa is author of the blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers. Lisa frequently works with organizations in support of better policies, patient-centered research, and research funding. Lisa serves on HealthCentral’s Health Advocates Advisory Board, and is a Social Ambassador for the MSHealthCentral Facebook page.