When it comes to the prognosis for multiple sclerosis (MS), there’s both good news and 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, MS patients have essentially the same life expectancy as the general population.
Looking strictly at life expectancy, the prognosis for people with MS is encouraging. The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) reports that the majority of MS patients will experience a normal (or almost normal) life span. People with MS tend to die from many of the same conditions that people 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, MS patients must contend with other issues that can hamper their quality of life. The symptoms cause pain, discomfort, and inconvenience, even though most patients will never become severely disabled. The UMMC reports the alarming statistic that suicide rates among people with MS are higher than those in the general population.
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 people diagnosed with MS are able to walk without a wheelchair two decades after their diagnosis. Some people will need crutches or a cane to remain ambulatory, however. Others use an electric scooter or wheelchair to help them cope with fatigue or balance difficulties.
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.
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
There are several other guidelines that can 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.
According to the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, a small number of people may have a particularly rapidly progressing form of MS that can cause severe health issues early on. Severe disability can, in rare cases, lead to premature death from infections or pneumonia. In most cases, however, MS is not a fatal condition.
MS generally affects quality of life more than longevity. While certain rare types of MS can potentially affect lifespan, they are the exception rather than the rule. MS patients must contend with many difficult symptoms that will affect their lifestyle, but they can rest assured that their life expectancy essentially mirrors that of people who don’t have the condition.