Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that carries a plethora of misconceptions. The low incidence, variable course of the disease and the difficulty diagnosing it are likely contributors to this. Only some 2.3 million people have been diagnosed worldwide.

MS can present with a multitude of symptoms, including vision changes, slurred speech, difficulty with balance, fatigue, paralysis, memory and concentration impairment and even blindness. However, it’s important to understand that not everyone with MS will experience all of these symptoms, and the one’s they do have can be quite variable in its severity and degree of impairment.

Here are some answers to three of the most common concerns about MS.

1) Is Multiple Sclerosis a death sentence?

No. Recent research has found that expectancy is only five to 10 years less than the average person. Research further reveals that these cases were mostly due to complications from rare cases of severe MS — most of which were preventable or treatable.

With proper treatment and coordination with their doctor, a person with MS can mostly likely expect to live about as long as they would otherwise. Unavoidable death sentence? We think not.

2) Is there any effective treatment available?

While there is not yet a cure, there are some excellent treatment options available. In fact, these very treatments and medical advances have contributed a great deal to the rising life expectancy of individuals with MS.

The best options depend on the type of MS a person has, as well as what symptoms are of most serious. Certain medications can even modify the disease, slowing its progression and reducing the severity or frequency of relapses. Treatment can help many with MS to continue functioning with a minimum of disability.

3) Is paralysis inevitable?

MS causes the immune system to attack the nerve fibers in the spinal cord. In some cases, this leads to full or partial paralysis. However, in reality, two-thirds of MS sufferers retain the ability to walk, though some may need the assistance of a cane or walker. 75% never have to resort to the use of a wheelchair.

While there’s no surefire way to avoid it, following doctor’s orders and receiving proper treatment can certainly lower a person’s risk.

What Does This Mean For Individuals With MS?

Though this is a long-term illness, it can be coped with successfully. In many cases, proper medical treatment means that the most severe symptoms are well-managed and only come in periodic flare-ups. Daily life isn’t disrupted for any prolonged period of time, especially since some medications reduce the frequency and duration of these episodes.

Of course, one of the most important factors weighing on quality of life is medical care — how soon a person is diagnosed, when treatment begins, what type of treatment is given, etc. A person’s outlook can also have an impact. Stress and anxiety often worsen the manifestations of MS, and conversely, appropriately managing stress and anxiety can go far to reduce the severity and frequency of symptoms.

Now, we’ve got three of the most widespread misconceptions cleared up. It’s clear that despite some added challenges that will come, people with multiple sclerosis can still have a chance at a relatively normal and fulfilling life. Continuing medical advances and increased understanding of the disease have made this possible. Working closely with your physician, maintaining a healthy diet, engaging in exercise as best as possible and working toward a positive mental outlook can maximize your likelihood of a fulfilling, and full life.