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Multiple Sclerosis

"The many myths behind the many scars"
By: Stef dela Cruz, MDMultiple Sclerosis

I'm sure you know a lot of people with diabetes. I can bet you have relatives diagnosed with hypertension. However, the chances are that you don't know anyone with multiple sclerosis.

After all, multiple sclerosis (MS) is thought to be relatively rare in the Philippines and in other tropical countries. Literally meaning “numerous scars”, it is an immunologic disorder of the central nervous system, characterized by the demyelination of axons and formation of plaques.

We can’t let misconceptions about multiple sclerosis contribute to diagnostic and therapeutic difficulties! It’s time to do a little myth-busting.

Myth #1: “If someone in your family has it, you’ll have it, too”

Having a family history of multiple sclerosis does not guarantee that one will get diagnosed with it later on.

Yes, the expert consensus on multiple sclerosis is that it comes with a genetic risk. Once exposed to the environmental triggers, someone genetically susceptible to MS may develop the disease.

Take note, however, that even if your twin had MS, the bigger possibility is that you wouldn’t have it at all.

Hvizdos and Mosler mentioned a 24 to 30 percent risk for the monozygotic twin of a person with MS. In other words, at least 70 percent of the time, the unaffected twin stays disease-free.

Of course, the risk posed by genetic predisposition is still substantial, considering how the risk in the general population is less than 0.1 percent.

Myth #2: “Multiple sclerosis is a death sentence”

People with multiple sclerosis can expect to live long, happy lives, despite getting the diagnosis in their early adult years. Many live with their condition for about 50 years, all the way to their 70s.

Diabetes may in fact shorten life the same way as, if not more than, multiple sclerosis. Type 2 diabetes mellitus can reduce one’s life span by up to 10 years, according to the 2010 statistics published by Diabetes UK.

Myth #3: “Women with MS shouldn’t get pregnant”

Having a child is a gift, a choice any woman should be free to make – whether or not she has multiple sclerosis.

A relapse is possible within the first six months after delivery. However, fears surrounding pregnancy in MS should not serve as a reason to forego having a child altogether, explained Maria Houtchens during the 2015 meeting of the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CMSC), as published in Medscape Medical News.

Myth #4: “Your MS is the same as mine”

Even if MS was passed down to you by your parents, your manifestations wouldn’t necessarily be similar. It is this varied symptom profile of MS that makes it a diagnostic challenge, after all.

To make things more complicated, a person’s signs and symptoms may even vary from time to time.

Myth #5: “It’s a disease of the elderly”

Multiple sclerosis often appears when you’re at the prime of your life.

People with multiple sclerosis are usually diagnosed during early adulthood at an average age of 30 years. Some get diagnosed in their 20s and even during childhood, as reported by Milo and Miller. Anyone at any age can have it.

Myth #6: “When it comes to physical activity, less is more”

Because of possible motor limitations, pain, and problems with coordination, exercise was discouraged in the past. Things changed after physical activity was associated with symptomatic improvement and better quality of life, first reported in a 1996 article by Jack Petajan and colleagues published in Annals of Neurology.

Even potentially better than the usual bicycling and walking is ballroom dancing, according to a small 2015 study by Alexander Ng presented during the 2015 CMSC annual meeting. Based on the response of participants to dancing of low to moderate intensity, there was some improvement in emotional, psychological, and physical symptoms.

In an article he co-wrote with Tammy Roehrs for Can Do MS, Ng also reiterated the value of exercise as “medicine”, what with physical activity being a potential prescription – may it be as primary treatment or an adjunct – for people with MS.

Myth #7: “There is no treatment for multiple sclerosis”

Although there is no cure, treatment abounds.

Many common diseases are incurable as well – think diabetes, for instance – but that does not mean treatment options are not available. As is the case with multiple sclerosis, there are many ways to manage its signs and symptoms, as well as to modify its course so that a person can live a long and happy life.

These disease-modifying drugs help prevent permanent injury to the nervous system, which is why a panel of experts recommend that all people diagnosed with MS have early and full access to therapy. The recommendations were detailed in a 2014 consensus paper by the Multiple Sclerosis Coalition, revised in 2016.

As old assumptions about multiple sclerosis become obsolete with time, better ideas are put forward, further empowering those already affected by it. By increasing awareness and busting myths, people get diagnosed early, helping to transform their multiple “scars” into those of a battle well-fought.

With or without multiple sclerosis, that is what life is about, after all.

Read more:
Demystifying Multiple Sclerosis
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