Myths and facts about MS
Most of us know or know of someone with multiple sclerosis (MS), but how much do we really know about this illness? MS is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system misfires against myelin, a fatty substance that insulates the nerve fibers of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves.
Approximately 400,000 people in the U.S. are living with MS, yet there are many misconceptions about the illness (and its prognosis).
Here we debunk the top 10 myths, and tell you what you can really expect if you, or someone you love, has been diagnosed with MS.
MS is a death sentence
The facts: MS is not a death sentence. Life expectancy is normal or close to normal for most people
It is a life sentence, however, meaning that there is no cure—although there are plenty
of treatments to slow MS down and reduce symptoms.
“Many people with MS live full, active lives,” says Nancy L. Sicotte, M.D., director of the Multiple
Sclerosis Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “We think of it as a chronic
disease that can be managed, but there are a small percentage of people with severe MS who will
die from complications.”
You’ll need a wheelchair
The facts: Most people with MS will never need a wheelchair or other assistive device to get around.
“When patients come in after their diagnosis, they are usually devastated because they think it
means they will be in a wheelchair in five years, but this is simply not true,” Dr. Sicotte says.
Thanks to earlier detection and better treatments, you can’t assume that you’d know someone has
MS just by looking at them.
Everyone’s MS follows the same path
The facts: This is not your neighbor’s MS or your mother’s or that celebrity you follow on TV. The
truth is that no two cases of MS are ever alike. Some people have mild numbness in the limbs once
in their lifetime, while others may develop severe paralysis or loss of vision. The course of MS is
“You can’t even look at family members who have MS to say that ‘this is how my MS will
behave,'”says Carrie Lyn Sammarco, of the Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center at New
York University Langone Medical Center in New York City.”MS varies from person to person, and
even within the person.”