Quiz: True or False? Myths about Multiple Sclerosis

Many people -- including more than a few patients -- have misconceptions about multiple sclerosis. Confusion about MS can cause unnecessary worry, and keep people from enjoying life to the fullest. When it comes to MS, can you separate fact from fiction? Take this short quiz to find out.

1. Multiple sclerosis usually shortens a person's life.

True

False

2. People with MS should avoid working or doing anything else that might be stressful.

True

False

3. Pregnancy and childbirth are dangerous for women with MS.

True

False

4. Aspartame, mercury fillings, and other everyday chemicals are a major cause of MS.

True

False

5. A large majority of people with MS can get around without wheelchairs.

True

False

6. Most people can reverse MS by simply changing their diets.

True

False

7. MS always gets progressively worse.

True

False

8. Modern treatments mask the symptoms of MS, but can't slow down the disease.

True

False

Your Results

1. Multiple sclerosis usually shortens a person's life.

The correct answer is: False.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), people with MS have near-normal lifespans. When MS patients die, it's often from an unrelated problem, like heart disease or cancer. MS itself is very rarely fatal.

2. People with MS should avoid working or doing anything else that might be stressful.

The correct answer is: False.

A study reported in the British Medical Journal found that symptoms of MS often flare up after seriously stressful events such as the death of a loved one or a major problem at work. Still, there's no evidence that everyday hassles make MS worse. In fact, sitting behind a desk just might feel better than sitting on the couch. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates that 30 percent of all people with MS still work full-time jobs 20 years after their diagnosis. That number would be even higher if more employers and patients appreciated the capabilities of people with MS.

3. Pregnancy and childbirth are dangerous for women with MS.

The correct answer is: False.

Pregnancy isn't especially dangerous for women with MS. In fact, many women enjoy relief from their symptoms during pregnancy.

4. Aspartame, mercury fillings, and other everyday chemicals are a major cause of MS.

The correct answer is: False.

The Internet is full of rumors and urban legends that blame MS and many other diseases on modern substances. In the case of MS, the claims just don't hold up. Take mercury, which is used in amalgam dental fillings, for example. These fillings release incredibly small amounts of mercury, far below toxic levels. And while mercury poisoning can damage nerves, the damage doesn't look anything like MS. An Italian survey of 132 patients with MS and 423 healthy people found no link between the disease and mercury fillings. Likewise, the NMSS reports that the supposed connection between MS and the sweetener aspartame is based entirely on speculation, not science.

5. A large majority of people with MS can get around without wheelchairs.

The correct answer is: True.

According to the NMSS, three out of four people with MS can get around without the help of a wheelchair. As treatments improve, that number is bound to climb.

6. Most people can reverse MS by simply changing their diets.

The correct answer is: False.

There is no magical dietary cure for MS. The NMSS recommends ignoring the latest rumors and sticking to a low-fat, high-fiber diet, a proven recipe for good health.

7. MS always gets progressively worse.

The correct answer is: False.

While some people with MS steadily deteriorate, others have mild symptoms that never get any worse. The future for any particular patient can be hard to predict, but modern treatments give each person reason to hope.

8. Modern treatments mask the symptoms of MS, but can't slow down the disease.

The correct answer is: False.

Several drugs -- namely beta interferon 1a intramuscular (Avonex), beta interferon 1a subcutaneous (Rebif), beta interferon 1b (Betaseron), and glatiramer acetate (Copaxone) -- can slow down MS and increase the time between attacks, along with Extavia (interferon beta 1b) and Plegridy (peginterferon beta 1a). Researchers believe the drugs keep the immune system from attacking nerves, the apparent root cause of MS. At this time, the drugs are only approved for people with relapsing-remitting MS, the most common form of the disease. Patients who aren't already taking one of these drugs should talk to their doctors. A change in treatment could make a huge difference in their lives. (Note: The FDA has issued a regulatory alert for Avonex because some patients experienced liver damage and liver failure after taking the medication.)

References

National Multiple Sclerosis Society. 9 myths.

National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Stories linking aspartame and multiple sclerosis unfounded.

National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Clear thinking about alternative therapies.

Casetta I et al. Multiple sclerosis and dental amalgam: case-control study in Ferrara, Italy. Neuroepidemiology 20(2): 134-137.

Buljevac D. Self reported stressful life event and exacerbations in multiple sclerosis: prospective study. British Medical Journal 327: 646.

Mayo Clinic. Multiple Sclerosis.

National Guideline Clearinghouse. Disease modifying therapies in multiple sclerosis: report of the Therapeutics and Technology Assessment Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the MS Council for Clinical Practice Guidelines.

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