How does pregnancy affect multiple sclerosis symptoms?

Dr. Charles R. Smith, MD

Many women with MS are of childbearing age. In this WisePatient video, neurologist Dr. Charles Smith discusses how pregnancy can affect multiple sclerosis symptoms and smart precautions when it comes to MS drugs.

Statistics show that only ten percent of women experience relapses during their nine months of pregnancy. Multiple factors occur during pregnancy to suppress the woman's immune state. This means that during pregnancy, a woman naturally achieves an immunosuppressive state that is usually produced artificially by medications. This could be the reason for reduced disease activity during pregnancy. Several studies have shown that pregnancy has a potential calming effect on MS. Many women with MS feel exceptionally well, especially during their third trimester, when relapse rates are at an all-time low. In contrast, the six months or so after the baby is born are associated with a higher risk of relapse.

If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), during pregnancy you should:

  • Watch for Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) — If you regularly take an antibiotic to prevent bladder infection, your doctor might prescribe a different medication that is safer during pregnancy. Incontinence might also be an issue, both during pregnancy and after you give birth. I've spoken with women who stopped wearing underwear so they "wouldn't waste any time" when they had to go to the bathroom. Other women suggested staying close to a restroom, or wearing absorbent underwear.
  • Be Aware of Relapse — Though some women seem to experience a remission in their MS symptoms while pregnant, even while off their normal treatment, it is not impossible that you will have a relapse. Report anything that you feel could be the start of an exacerbation to your doctor. Occasionally, corticosteroid treatments are used for MS relapses during pregnancy.

Overall, pregnancy and childbirth are not associated with a higher risk of disability for the woman with MS.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.