“I will have to use a wheelchair.”
That was my first thought when I received a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. After I got my ticket to the weirdest whirlwind weekend that I’d never expected to attend — three days in the hospital — the myths that I’d unconsciously collected throughout my life to that point manifested in my mind.
However, I’ve come to learn that the idea of going straight into a wheelchair after diagnosis is just one of the many misconceptions surrounding MS.
In this column, I’ll address five of the most prevalent myths about MS.
1. MS is the same for everyone.
No, it’s not. MS is sometimes called “the snowflake disease” because each case is unique. I didn’t know this when I was first diagnosed and believed it was like having a cold, in which you have the same symptoms as everyone else with a cold: runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, and so on. With MS, different parts of your body are affected depending on the location of the lesions in your brain. It took me a long time to learn this. Fellow columnist Stephanie Towler expressed it perfectly in her column “MSunderstood Millennial” when she wrote that “MS is not a one-size-fits-all disease.”
2. You can’t have children.
MS doesn’t affect your fertility. Many women find that their symptoms remain stable or even ease during pregnancy. I haven’t yet had a baby, so I can’t comment on what it is like to go through pregnancy, childbirth, and beyond with MS. However, I have spoken to several women on my podcast about their experiences.
3. You’ll be in a wheelchair.
As I mentioned, I had this thought in the hospital when the doctor told me I had MS. I wondered what contributes to this belief. A possible reason is that when you type “person with multiple sclerosis” into an online search engine, images of people in wheelchairs come up. Another reason is that many MS symptoms are invisible to others, so you may not know that someone has MS unless you ask them. A wheelchair is the most obvious way to demonstrate that a person has an illness or disability, which is probably why it’s frequently used to portray a person with MS.
4. You shouldn’t exercise.
Again, this is untrue. I learned recently that it used to be standard practice for doctors to advise against physical exertion in people with MS in case of relapses. However, this advice is outdated. The latest guidance suggests that exercise is good for someone with MS, as it provides overall benefits for health and well-being. I spoke on my podcast to MS expert Dr. Gretchen Hawley about exercise. This article on the National Multiple Sclerosis Society website also gives a good overview of exercising with MS.
5. MS is contagious.
No, it’s really not. It’s a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord in which the body attacks the protective coating around nerve cells and breaks it down. You can’t catch that. Many people still have this misconception. This can be a useful card to pull out to break the ice with someone: “You know MS isn’t contagious, right?” Using humor is often a good way to put someone at ease.
After I received my diagnosis, I was shocked when some people stopped speaking to me. Maybe they thought I was contagious. Or perhaps they didn’t know what to say to me.
Either way, I decided that if they weren’t willing to help me through a hard time, then they weren’t real friends. I’ve since read Judy Lynn’s amazing column,”Friendships and MS,” which resonated with me.
Heard other myths about MS? Please share in the comments below.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.