Conference Coverage

Survey of MS patients reveals numerous pregnancy-related concerns



– When it comes to family planning and pregnancy-related decisions such as breastfeeding and medication management, patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) receive a wide variety of advice, guidance, and engagement from their health care providers, results from a single-center survey demonstrated.

Dr. Myla D. Goldman (left) and Casey E. Engel of the University of Virginia Doug Brunk/MDedge News

Dr. Myla D. Goldman (left) and Casey E. Engel

“We want our patients to feel comfortable when they come to us in their 20s or 30s and they get diagnosed, they’re scared, and it’s all new to them,” one of the study authors, Casey E. Engel said in an interview at the meeting held by the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis. “We want them to know that family planning is something to consider and that they can proceed with having a family with our help and guidance.”

In an effort to collect patient-experience data around family planning, pregnancy, and breastfeeding post-MS diagnosis, Ms. Engel and senior author Myla D. Goldman, MD, mailed a survey to 1,000 women with confirmed MS diagnosis who had received care at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville. The researchers reported findings from 173 respondents, of whom 70% were receiving specialty care for MS. Most of the survey participants (137) did not become pregnant following their diagnosis, while 36 did.

Of the 137 respondents who did not become pregnant following diagnosis, 22 (16%) indicated that their decision was driven by MS-related concerns, including MS worsening with pregnancy (64%), ability to care for child secondary to MS (46%), lack of knowledge about options for pregnancy and MS (18%), passing MS onto child (18%), and stopping disease-modifying therapy (DMT) to attempt pregnancy (9%).

Of the 36 women who had a pregnancy following diagnosis, 20% reported postpartum depression or anxiety, higher than the national average of 10%-15%. In addition, 79% reported not being on DMT at the time of conception, 9% were on either glatiramer acetate injection or interferon beta-1a at time of conception, and 3% were on fingolimod (Gilenya) at time of conception. The majority reported receiving inconsistent advice about when to discontinue DMT before attempting pregnancy (a range from 0 to 6 months).

“It’s also noteworthy that 20% took a year to achieve pregnancy,” said Dr. Goldman, a neurologist who directs the university’s MS clinic. “If these women stop [their DMT] 6 months in advance and they take a year to achieve pregnancy, that’s 18 months without therapeutic coverage. That’s a concern to bring to light.”

Breastfeeding was reported in 71% of mothers in postdiagnosis pregnancy with a range between 1 week and 10 months, driven in part by variable guidelines regarding DMT reinitiation. In the meantime, respondents who did not breastfeed made this decision due to fear of relapse, glucocorticoids, or desire to reinitiate medication.

“Though our study was limited by low survey response, we hope that our work may highlight the difficulty our patients face and foster discussions within the MS community around these issues to improve the individual patient experience,” the researchers wrote in their poster.

Ms. Engel worked on the study while an undergraduate at the University of Virginia. The study was supported by the ziMS Foundation.

SOURCE: Engel CE et al. ACTRIMS Forum 2019, Poster 307.

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