Multiple Sclerosis Prognosis and Your Life Expectancy
Not Fatal, but No Cure
When it comes to examining the prognosis for multiple sclerosis (MS), there’s some good news and some bad news. Let’s start with the bad news: there is currently no cure for MS. However, there is good news about life expectancy. According to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation (MSF), MS is not a fatal disease. In fact, those with the condition have essentially the same life expectancy as the general population.
What’s My Prognosis?
When looking strictly at life expectancy, the prognosis for MS patients is encouraging. The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) reports that the majority of those with the disease will experience a normal (or almost normal) life span. People with MS tend to die from many of the same conditions that those without MS die from, including cancer and heart disease.
The prognosis for longevity is good except in cases of severe MS, which is quite rare. However, those with the condition must contend with other issues that can hamper their quality of life. MS symptoms can cause pain, discomfort, and inconvenience even though most with the disease will never become severely disabled. For this reason, the UMMC reports that suicide rates among people with MS are higher than those in the general population.
20 Years Later
Another way of evaluating the prognosis for MS is to examine how disabilities resulting from the condition’s symptoms may affect patients. According to the UMMC, around two-thirds of those diagnosed with MS are able to walk without a wheelchair two decades after their diagnosis. However, some do need crutches or a cane to remain ambulatory. Others use an electric scooter or wheelchair to help them cope with fatigue or balance difficulties.
What Will My Symptoms Be Like?
There’s some unpredictability to how MS will progress in each person. Patients vary widely in how they experience the severity of the disease. The UMMC reports that:
- Around 20 percent of those with MS will have no symptoms, or only mild symptoms, after an initial clinical diagnosis and event.
- Around 20 percent will experience their condition as progressive.
- Most patients will undergo a certain amount of disease progression.
What Are My Risk Factors?
To help determine your personal prognosis, it helps to understand risk factors that may indicate a greater chance of developing a severe form of the condition. According to the UMMC, women with MS generally have a better overall outlook than men. Additionally, certain factors indicate a higher risk for more severe symptoms, such as:
- if you’re over 40 at the initial onset of symptoms
- if your initial symptoms affect more than one area of your body
- if your initial symptoms affect mental functioning, urinary control, or motor control
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) notes several other guidelines to help predict prognosis. MS patients tend to do better if they experience:
- few symptom attacks in the initial few years post-diagnosis
- a longer amount of time passing between attacks
- a complete recovery from their attacks
- symptoms related to sensory problems, such as tingling, vision loss, or numbness
- neurological exams that appear almost normal five years after diagnosis
The majority of people with MS have a normal life expectancy. However, it can be difficult for doctors to predict whether a patient’s condition will worsen or improve, since the disease varies so much from person to person.
The NMSS reports that a small number of people—around 5 percent—may experience severe disability that leads to premature death from infections including pneumonia. Therefore, though not perfect, overall life expectancy for people with MS is still 95 percent normal.
Quality, Not Quantity
MS generally hurts quality of life more than quantity of life. While certain rare types of MS can potential affect longevity, they are the exception rather than the rule. MS patients must contend with many difficult symptoms that can influence their lifestyle, but they can rest assured that their life expectancy essentially mirrors that of people who don’t have the condition.