Multiple Sclerosis (MS) FAQs (cont.)
How Long Can a Person with Multiple Sclerosis Live?
MS is not fatal, and life expectancy is therefore similar to that of the general population. Most people need to adjust to live with the disease and cope with its symptoms.
- Most people with MS relapses and remissions will eventually need assistance to walk within 15-20 years. The disease tends to become progressive, and many of these patients will eventually need canes, walkers, scooters, or wheelchairs. Some choose to use a scooter early on to help conserve their energy.
- A small percentage of people with MS have a very mild form of the disease with little or no disability and few symptoms, although in many the disease may progress to a more moderate form within 25 years. Although these patients appear to have few neurologic deficits, a detailed neurologic examination in some may reveal substantial cognitive impairment.
- A large percentage of people have a relapsing form of the disease, with intermittent worsening of neurologic symptoms that usually last several weeks. After years of relapses, these patients’ clinical course may switch to a steadily progressive form of the disease known as secondary progressive MS.
- Some people with MS have a relapsing-progressive form of the disease from the onset, and do not return back to their normal state of health after a relapse. These individuals may accumulate disability with and between each attack.
- A lower percentage of people have a progressive form of the disease, termed primary progressive MS, in which the problems with their nervous system progress every year despite the absence of clear exacerbations.
- Death results from other causes, such as heart attack or pneumonia, not related to the MS disease process.
- The progress of MS and a person's prognosis cannot be predicted at the early stages with great accuracy. Patients are advised at the early stages to try to lead a normal life, exercise frequently, and follow healthy diets. Patients must know, however, that no particular diet has been shown to adversely affect the course of MS. Patients should monitor the symptoms that appear during exercise to adjust and learn to moderate their level of effort accordingly. Patients are also encouraged to avoid exposure to excessive heat, since it may exacerbate latent symptoms of MS, such as visual blurring, tingling and numbness, or fatigue.
Support for MS Patients and Care Givers
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with MS, you may find support and encouragement from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society or its local chapters. In addition, several MS Centers or clinics have available support groups for patients with MS and their families.
Central Nervous System and MS Diagrams
Immune system T cells attack and destroy the myelin sheath, leaving the nerve cell fibers unprotected.
Medically reviewed by Joseph Carcione, DO; American board of Psychiatry and Neurology
1. Adams R, Victor M, Ropper A. Multiple Sclerosis and Allied Demyelinative Diseases. In: Principles of Neurology. 6th ed. NY: McGraw-Hill; 1997:902-927.
2. Dangond F. Multiple Sclerosis: A Prototypical Human Demyelinating Disease. In: Dangond F. Disorders of Myelin in the Central and Peripheral Nervous Systems. Butterworth-Heinemann; 2002:103-138.
3. Dangond F. Repair and Neuroprotective Strategies in MS. In: Olek MJ. Multiple Sclerosis. Etiology, Diagnosis, and New Treatment Strategies. Totowa NJ: Human Press; 2004:193-207.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/22/2016
Carmel Armon, MD, MHS, MSc
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