Management of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in Pregnancy

How common is this situation- pregnancy in women with MS?

MS is most often diagnosed between the ages of 20 to 40 years. This is the age when most women plan their pregnancies. Therefore, it is very common to find women with MS, who are pregnant or those who are planning pregnancy.

Which is a better option- starting MS treatment and then planning pregnancy or delaying MS treatments until after completing family?

MS is characterized by multiple relapses (when new symptoms occur). With each relapse, the disability increases. These relapses are often more frequent in the initial years after diagnosis of MS. Disease modifying drugs (DMD) can reduce relapses and disability. Therefore, it is always better to start DMD and then plan pregnancy. One should not postpone starting DMD after pregnancy/delivery.

How does pregnancy affect MS?

Pregnancy does not affect MS in the first trimester.

The MS relapses are lesser in 2nd and 3rd trimesters, which is good news.

However, the relapses become more frequent in the post partum period (after delivery) and this higher risk persists until 6 months after delivery.

How does MS affect pregnancy?

By and large, there are no adverse effects of MS on pregnancy. Women with MS have no extra risk of miscarriage or birth defects in their babies; as compared to women without MS. The mode of delivery too need not be altered just because the patient has MS.      

MS has no direct effect on fertility. Women with MS may have sexual dysfunction resulting in lesser libido. Male partners who have MS may suffer from erectile dysfunction.  

What MS medications are safe in pregnancy?

No DMD has yet been tested in pregnancy and hence none can be declared safe. However, recent evidence suggests that some DMDs are less risky than others. Less risky DMDs in pregnant women with MS include beta interferons (Avonex, Rebif, Betaseron) and Glatiramer acetate.

For prospective fathers, beta interferon and Glatiramer acetate as DMD showed no risk to baby’s health. Teriflunomide is detected in semen and it should be discontinued before trying to conceive.

Steroids can be safely used to treat MS relapses during pregnancy.

Will babies born to women with MS have a higher risk of getting MS themselves?

Most cases of MS are sporadic and most women with MS do not have a history of MS in their family members. However, having a relative with MS does slightly increase the risk of being diagnosed with MS.

In UK, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with MS in general population in 1 in 330. The risk increases to 1 in 48, if one of the first degree relatives has MS. If one of the second-degree relatives has MS, the risk of being diagnosed with MS is 1 in 100.

Can women with MS breastfeed?

Breastfeeding is safe and can be continued as usual.

What impact does pregnancy have on the course of MS?

There is limited data on this topic. However, in one study, pregnancy and childbirth were associated with lesser chances of developing severe disability. Women who gave birth at any time (either before or after the onset of MS) were 34% less likely to develop severe disability (as defined by need to use walking aid).

Published by Dr Sudhir Kumar MD (Medicine) DM (Neurology)

I am a doctor with 25 years experience. I have worked as a neurologist for about 20 years. Educating public and healthcare professionals is very dear to me. This is possible due to my interactions with thousands of patients and their caregivers. I salute the patients who suffer and it is our duty to minimise suffering by preventing diseases and ensuring prompt diagnosis and treatment of those already affected.

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