Nearly 1 million people in the United States are living with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a recent estimate from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.1 Despite its prevalence, many myths surround the chronic condition. As a clinician, it’s important to be aware of common misconceptions your patients might have.
Myth #1: Exercise makes things worse
Some patients with MS avoid exercise for fear that it will worsen their fatigue or aggravate their pain. However, research shows that moderate physical activity can improve fitness, functional capacity, and quality of life in patients with MS.2 Diana Duda, PT, DPT, MSCS, a physical therapist at Penn Therapy, recommends at least 10 minutes of stretching daily, as it helps maintain range of motion and ease symptoms related to spasticity.3 In addition, she adds that patients should spend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week.
Myth #2: Working is out of the question
Individuals with MS are more prone to work difficulties including voluntary and involuntary termination.4 However, not everyone with the condition is unable to work. In fact, those who are employed report significantly better quality of life and mood.5 Inform your patients that if they are able and wish to work, they are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires their employer to provide reasonable accommodations such as workplace adjustments and flexible scheduling.6
Myth #3: Pregnancy is dangerous
Women who want to start a family shouldn’t let MS get in their way. Not only can women with MS become pregnant, some may even find relief from their symptoms during pregnancy. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society notes that relapses are less common during pregnancy, particularly in the second and third trimesters.7 The Association of British Neurologists recommends that mothers-to-be undergo prepregnancy counseling to be repeated at regular intervals. They also recommend following standard advice for pregnancy with a particular emphasis on refraining from smoking, taking recommended supplements, and performing pelvic floor exercises.8
Myth #4: Nothing can be done to manage MS
While there still is no cure for MS, there are treatments available that may accelerate recovery from attacks, slow disease progression, and manage symptoms. Corticosteroids such as oral prednisone may be used to reduce nerve inflammation. Various injectable medications, oral treatments, and infusions are designed to reduce relapse rate in relapse-remitting MS. Meanwhile, physical therapy, rest, and exercise can make everyday tasks easier.9
Myth #5: MS is easy to diagnose
MS is notoriously difficult to diagnose because there’s no definitive test for the condition and each patient experiences the disease differently. In fact, a recent study found that 18% of patients diagnosed with MS didn’t actually have the condition. Migraines were the most common ailment mistakenly diagnosed as MS.10
- MS Prevalence. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Accessed December 19, 2019.
- Halabchi F, Alizadeh Z, Sahraian MA, Abolhasani M. Exercise prescription for patients with multiple sclerosis; potential benefits and practical recommendations. BMC Neurol. 2017;17(1):185.
- Multiple sclerosis and exercise: why MS patients should stay active. Penn Medicine. Published May 1, 2017. Accessed December 19, 2019.
- Vijayasingham L, Mairami FF. Employment of patients with multiple sclerosis: the influence of psychosocial—structural coping and context. Degener Neurol Neuromuscul Dis. 2018;8:15-24.
- Dorstyn DS, Roberts RM, Murphy G, Haub R. Employment and multiple sclerosis: a meta-analytic review of psychological correlates. J Health Psychol. 2019;24(1):38-51.
- Americans with Disabilities Act. US Department of Labor. Accessed December 19, 2019.
- Pregnancy and reproductive issues. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Accessed December 19, 2019.
- Dobson R, Dassan P, Roberts M, Giovannoni G, Nelson-Piercy C, Brex PA. UK consensus on pregnancy in multiple sclerosis: ‘Association of British Neurologists’ guidelines. Pract Neurol. 2019;19(2):106-114.
- Multiple sclerosis diagnosis & treatment. Mayo Clinic. Updated April 19, 2019. Accessed December 19, 2019.
- Kaisey M, Solomon AJ, Luu M, Giesser BS, Sicotte NL. Incidence of multiple sclerosis misdiagnosis in referrals to two academic centers. Mult Scler Relat Disord. 2019;30:51-56.