Although many people with multiple sclerosis (MS) may experience many of the same symptoms, no two people will have the same experience. This means that everything from symptoms to progression will vary from one person to the next.

Different Types of MS

When you’re diagnosed with MS, one of the first things you want to know is how your disease will progress. There are four different types or courses of MS:

Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS)

This is the most common course of the disease. Close to 85 percent of people with MS are initially diagnosed with RRMS. This type of MS causes unpredictable but defined symptom attacks or flare-ups. Attacks can last anywhere from a couple of days to a few months, and can be followed by either a partial or full recovery.  

There are two subcategories of RRMS: benign MS and clinically isolated syndrome, or probable MS. These subcategories are based on how long remission lasts. For those with benign MS, remission between attacks can last 15 to 20 years with little or no physical disability. For those with clinically isolated syndrome, only one, single neurologic episode occurs. This may or may not develop into MS.   

Secondary-Progressive MS (SPMS)

Most people with RRMS eventually progress to secondary-progressive MS. Approximately 50 percent of those with RRMS will go on to develop SPMS within 10 years.

Primary-Progressive MS (PPMS)

Approximately 10 percent of people with MS are diagnosed with PPMS, which is characterized by a steady worsening of neurologic function. The speed of progression can vary over time, but even though a person may experience minor improvements in symptoms, there are no clear attacks or remissions.

Progressive-Relapsing MS (PRMS)

This is a rare course of MS that only occurs in approximately 5 percent of people with MS. A person with PRMS experiences a steady worsening of the disease from the start. As with RRMS, they can also experience clear attacks either with or without recovery or remission.

Other Factors

Besides your type of MS, other factors may also trigger an attack or relapse. One study found that experiencing stressful events caused the number of attacks to double. These stressful events were anything the participants themselves felt was stressful, which shows that everyone with MS will have a different experience.

Other studies have found that infection, including viral upper respiratory infections, can also trigger an attack.

Your lifestyle can also have an impact on your MS experience. Those who engage in regular physical activity have been found to experience milder symptoms and fewer attacks, while being inactive has been linked to the worsening of symptoms and higher risk of secondary disease. Some evidence also suggests that diet, vitamin D, and antioxidants may be beneficial in the management of symptoms and progression.

While MS is unpredictable and no two experiences are alike, advances in treatments can help you manage MS for many years.