What You Can Expect While Expecting With MS

Research reveals more about short- and long-term effects
Dion W pregnant

Dion W. is 30-plus weeks into her pregnancy and she’s surprised.

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She’s not surprised that her multiple sclerosis symptoms have disappeared. Now 35, she has suffered with those off and on for 15 years, but her doctor says it is common for MS symptoms to recede during pregnancy.

But, as with many women before her, the twists and turns over the course of pregnancy surprise Dion. It’s more that she’s surprised to feel, well, like a normal pregnant person.

“I thought it was just going to be my stomach growing, but everything is growing,” says the Northeast Ohio resident. “I can’t fit anything. I just thought it would be different.”

That kind of different is a blessing, considering that doctors once advised women with MS to avoid getting pregnant.

While it’s not clear how they came to that conclusion, research in the last 20 years shows that those fears were unfounded, says neurologist Mary R. Rensel, MD. “Based on studies, it doesn’t seem that getting pregnant or being pregnant changes the course of MS,” Dr. Rensel says.

Short-term benefits

MS not only doesn’t appear to disturb the health of mom and baby during pregnancy, but there also are some positives in how the disease behaves when the patient is pregnant.

Doctors now know that there’s a sizable drop in MS symptoms, particularly in the third trimester. At that time, they are reduced by as much as 70 percent, according to a study of pregnancy and MS called the PRIMS study.

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Researchers aren’t sure exactly how to account for this, but there are many factors that may contribute. They include:

  • Elevated hormone levels
  • Changes in certain immune system chemicals
  • Reductions in cells that make interferon-gamma, known to worsen MS
  • Increases in regulatory T cells that may suppress MS activity

Long-term outlook

A study out of Sweden in the 1990s indicated that having children might actually improve MS in the long run.

The subsequent PRIMS study showed that the relapse rate increased postpartum, but there was no change in the overall course of MS during the three years tracked afterward.

Dion reports no recurrence of her usual MS symptoms — fatigue, numbness in fingers and legs, vision loss in one eye — while she has been pregnant.

She’s been off her MS medications throughout the pregnancy. She and her husband made that decision, with the help of her doctors, when they learned the happy news. “I said if this is something we’re going to do, we’re going to do it,” she said, of being intentional about getting pregnant.

Dion intends to do without pain medications as well — for as long as she can take it, at least — when she delivers at Hillcrest Hospital.

As her early June due date draws closer, the pressing question that remains has nothing to do with her MS: What will we name the new addition to the family?

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And the answer? “It’s still under negotiation,” she says.


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