Multiple Sclerosis (MS) FAQs (cont.)
How does multiple sclerosis change a person's life?
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.
- About 75-85% 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.
- About 15% of people 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.
- About 10% 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.
Carmel Armon, MD, MHS, MSc
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