You’ve probably heard of multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic disease that damages the brain, spinal cord and nerves of the eyes. You or someone you know might even have MS, as it affects over 2 million people worldwide. But not everything you’ve read or been told about the disease may be correct.
Advances in research are giving us a better understanding of the disease, challenging the way doctors treat it, and changing how people with MS manage their health. Here, we dispel five common myths about MS.
MS is a genetic disease. If no one in my family has the condition, then I’m not at risk.
If you have a relative with MS, you are at a higher risk for the disease. But even people without a family connection to MS can be diagnosed with it. "Research has identified some genetic factors," says Margaret Frazer, MD, Senior Director within the Neuroscience team at Pfizer, "but we’re still learning about all of the causes of MS." Other potential risk factors being studied include environmental and viral triggers.
Only older people have MS.
MS is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50. "Early symptoms may not be as debilitating as they eventually can become, but it’s still important to address the condition in a young person," says Dr. Frazer. In most circumstances, the earlier you start treatment for this disease the better, regardless of how serious the symptoms may seem.
People with MS all experience the same symptoms.
No two MS patients will experience the disease in the same way. MS is characterized by a standard set of symptoms, but they’re not always all present in every person. These symptoms also tend to come and go and will affect each person differently. The most common symptoms may include:
- Weakness and muscle spasms
- Tingling, numbness, and pain throughout the body
- Vision changes
- Bladder dysfunction
- Memory loss, dementia, impaired attention
- Balance problems
- Speech disturbance
- Vertigo (feeling like the room is spinning)
- Hearing loss
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with the disease or not, it’s important to keep track of your symptoms and discuss them with your doctor, especially any that are new or last longer than 24 hours.
An MS diagnosis means I will eventually be unable to walk.
Major strides have been made in the field of MS research, which means some people with MS are remaining mobile far longer than before. "While we still don’t have a cure for MS, there are more treatment options now than a few decades ago," according to Dr. Frazer. If you are diagnosed with MS, be sure to set aside plenty of time to discuss these treatment options with your healthcare provider in order to find the most appropriate plan.
If you have MS, you should not exercise.
It was once believed that if you were diagnosed with MS, you shouldn’t exercise. Some doctors thought it would actually bring on MS symptoms. The truth is, exercise can help improve mobility and balance, two things that are important when you have MS. Staying active and healthy can also decrease fatigue, which is typically the most disabling MS symptom. That said, the symptoms of MS may be more noticeable when its hot outside or if you become overheated. It’s important to work with your healthcare team to create an exercise and activity plan that’s right for you.