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Can You Die From Multiple Sclerosis?

Ask a Doctor

A coworker of mine was just diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I don’t know him well enough to ask for details, but I know nothing about the disease. I’m curious. Can you die from multiple sclerosis?

Doctor’s Response

Despite therapies presented in this article, multiple sclerosis is not curable.

  • A minority of people with multiple sclerosis have a very mild form of the disease with little or no disability. Their neurologic disability may barely affect their daily activities, and the disease does not shorten their life span. However, cases of "benign" multiple sclerosis can only be ascertained retrospectively, after many years, and it is therefore not advisable for multiple sclerosis patients doing well to assume this inactive disease state will be permanent.
  • About 65% of people with multiple sclerosis have a relapsing and remitting form of the disease. They have intermittent worsening of their neurologic symptoms that lasts several days or weeks before returning to their original state of health. Some patients, however, are left with residual deficits (residual disability) after some attacks.
  • Most patients with the relapsing and remitting form progress to a stage where relapses become much less frequent, but they continue to accumulate disabling symptoms. This new phase of the disease is termed secondary progressive multiple sclerosis.
  • In about 15% of people with multiple sclerosis, a relapsing and progressing course is found. With this type (relapsing-progressive multiple sclerosis), patients have relapses superimposed on a pattern of continuous progression of disability.
  • About 5% to 10% of people with multiple sclerosis have a pure progressive (primary progressive multiple sclerosis) form. Their disability progresses in the absence of attacks over time.
  • Death usually results from other causes such as pneumonia or heart attacks, especially in patients who are bedridden, at the latest stages of the disease.

For more information, read our full medical article on multiple sclerosis

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Reviewed on 3/14/2018
References
Luzzio, C., MD. "Multiple Sclerosis." Medscape. Updated Jan 27, 2016.
<http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1146199-overview>

National Instututes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Multiple Sclerosis Information Page.
<https://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/all-disorders/multiple-sclerosis-Information-Page>

National MS Society. "What Is MS?"
<http://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS>
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