Multiple sclerosis (MS) may progress more quickly as you age, with fewer breaks between symptom flare-ups.

Around the world, over 1.8 million people are estimated to be living with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to the World Health Organization.

This condition occurs when the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord. Although many individuals receive a diagnosis of MS between the ages of 20 and 40, it may develop in younger or older individuals, too.

MS frequently progresses quicker with age. New and more severe symptoms may appear without breaks. There’s no cure for MS, but treatment can help with the symptoms you experience.

Keep reading to learn more about how aging affects MS.

Aging may affect MS in a variety of ways depending on the form of MS you have, your sex, and the age at which you initially show symptoms.

Aging and MS symptoms

Many symptoms of MS and aging overlap. This can make it difficult to diagnose MS as you age, since you may assume symptoms are part of the aging process.

Symptoms of MS may also become worse with time due to the natural effects of aging.

Some symptoms common to both aging and MS include:

Types of MS

There are four main types of MS:

  • Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS): Symptoms appear as attacks or relapses if you experience RRMS. Between these attacks, you may go through months or even years of inactivity. Many people initially experience this type of MS.
  • Secondary-progressive MS (SPMS): In this type of MS, individuals who previously only experienced MS symptoms as attacks will gradually develop steady symptoms.
  • Primary-progressive MS (PPMS): In this rarer form of MS, symptoms progressively worsen from the beginning without notable breaks, relapses, or exacerbations.
  • Progressive-relapsing MS (PRMS): This diagnosis is now considered PPMS. It’s when you experience steady progression of the disease from the start with acute relapses.

Does MS affect males and females differently as they age?

Females are more likely to receive a diagnosis of MS, but this dominance in diagnosis decreases with age. Males are also more likely to experience PPMS, which is known for more steady progression without breaks or relapses.

Age at diagnosis and MS progression

Late-onset MS frequently progresses rapidly. However, every individual’s condition is unique. Many factors can impact the extent of the MS symptoms you experience and how fast the condition progresses.

Some risk factors may include:

Both MS and menopause can increase fatigue as well as the likelihood of bladder, mood, and cognitive disorders leading to a decreased quality of life.

Studies have indicated that menopause may be a turning point for MS to become more aggressive. This is likely related to the hormonal and immunological changes menopause can bring.

Your bones may become less dense as you age, whether you have MS or not. However, MS is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures. Reduced physical activity and the use of certain medications may play a role in this.

More research into the effects of certain MS therapies on bone health is still needed.

Your treatment plan for MS may include a combination of:

It’s important to work with your healthcare professional team to determine the best treatments for you.

As you age, comorbidities and frailties must be considered in determining whether certain treatments and therapies are appropriate. For example, a 2023 review suggests that disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) should be reconsidered after the age of 55 years.

MS isn’t likely to cause death. However, certain comorbidities from MS may reduce your life expectancy. A 2017 study reported a 7-year shorter life expectancy for people living with MS.

It’s important to note that survival rates and quality of life with MS are increasing as new medications and therapies are being discovered.

Does MS cause premature aging?

Research indicates that MS may accelerate physical health decline by 15–30 years compared to people who don’t have MS.

Does MS ever stop progressing?

You may experience MS symptom relapses and remissions depending on the type of MS you have. Some people living with RRMS can go for years without experiencing symptoms. Conversely, SPMS and PPMS are types of MS that continually progress. Early diagnosis and treatment may help steady the progression of MS.

What is the peak age for multiple sclerosis?

MS is typically diagnosed in people ages 2040 years. However, a peak prevalence is currently seen in people ages 55–65 years.

Is MS worse if diagnosed later in life?

Late-onset MS typically progresses rapidly. A 2017 study found that those who experience MS symptoms later in life have a less favorable outlook than those who experience symptoms before the age of 50 years. However, early treatment may help mitigate this.

Your age may affect how your MS progresses and the symptoms you experience. Speak with a healthcare professional if you experience any symptoms of MS. Early diagnosis and treatment could help slow the progression of the disease.

A doctor can also provide more insight into how your age affects your MS and treatment decisions.