Multiple Sclerosis – Separating Myth From Reality

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic neurological condition that affects around 100,000 people in the UK. It occurs when the immune system attacks the protective covering around the nerves in the spinal cord and the brain, leading to problems with vision, balance, muscle control and other bodily functions.

MS is different for everyone, but there are some common misconceptions about the condition. Here we debunk 5 myths about MS:

Myth 1: People with MS Shouldn’t Exercise

Many people assume that if you have MS, you should avoid all forms of exercise. However, this isn’t true – moderate physical activity can actually help manage MS symptoms.

While MS can sometimes cause fatigue, mobility issues and problems with balance, exercise tailored to your abilities can improve muscle strength, mood and overall wellbeing. Exploring suitable activities like swimming, yoga or walking can be beneficial. As with anyone, staying active is important for general health.

Myth 2: Most People with MS Use a Wheelchair

Another assumption is that most people with MS will end up in a wheelchair. But this isn’t the case for the majority of patients. Severe disability only develops in a minority of cases, especially if the condition is managed properly.

That said, some people do require walking aids or wheelchairs to maintain their independence if mobility is affected. But mobility aids don’t have to limit activity – they can actually help people stay active.

What are the first symptoms of MS?

Some of the earliest signs of MS include vision problems, numbness, muscle spasms and overwhelming fatigue. Many people first notice issues with their sight, such as blurred or double vision. Tingling or numbness in the hands, feet or face can also indicate MS.

Muscle stiffness or spasms, as well as chronic tiredness, are other common initial symptoms. The specific early symptoms vary greatly between individuals. Some people only have one symptom to begin with while others have multiple.

Myth 3: You Can’t Have Children if You Have MS

MS is not a barrier to starting a family. The condition itself does not affect fertility, so people with MS can still have children.

However, some MS medications are not safe during pregnancy. It’s important to discuss family plans with your doctor so they can recommend suitable treatment options. People with more severe MS may need support to care for children, but parenthood is still possible.

Myth 4: MS Only Affects Older People

Contrary to popular belief, MS is not a disease of ageing – it usually appears between the ages of 20 and 50. MS is actually the leading cause of disability in young UK adults.

When TV personality Jack Osbourne was diagnosed with MS at 26, it highlighted that MS often develops during a person’s youth or prime working years.Diagnosis at a young age can be emotionally challenging but early treatment is important.

How is MS diagnosed?

Doctors use a combination of medical history, neurological exams and tests like MRI scans to diagnose MS. There is no single test for MS. MRIs can detect lesions in the central nervous system caused by MS.

Your doctor will also ask about your symptoms and may give a physical examination to check reflexes, vision, coordination and muscle tone. They will likely want to rule out other possible causes for your symptoms too.

The McDonald criteria are used to diagnose MS based on clinical presentation and MRI results. Diagnosis can take some time as doctors monitor symptoms over days or months. Early diagnosis is crucial to prevent permanent damage.

Myth 5: MS is Passed Down in Families

MS has a genetic component, so having a relative with MS does increase your risk somewhat. However, there is no single “MS gene” – other factors like smoking, vitamin D deficiency and viruses can influence susceptibility.

Even if your parent or sibling has MS, it doesn’t mean you’ll definitely develop it too. The genetic influence for MS is relatively small – lifestyle and environmental triggers also play a role. MS can occur out of the blue without any family history.

Key Takeaways:

  • Exercise is recommended to manage symptoms – explore suitable low-impact activities.
  • Mobility aids help some people retain independence but do not preclude an active lifestyle.
  • Fertility is unaffected, so starting a family is possible with the right advice.
  • MS often appears at a young age but early treatment helps.
  • Genetics are not destiny – lifestyle choices also contribute to risk.

MS is a complex condition and everyone’s experience is different. Staying informed and getting the right treatment and support can make a big difference to living well with MS.

Photo “Weights” by Anthony Cunningham for Zoom Health

Zoom Health is a leading UK supplier of Home Health Tests and Earplugs

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