Not fatal, but no cure

When it comes to the prognosis for multiple sclerosis (MS), there’s both good news and bad news. Although no known cure exists for MS, there is some good news about life expectancy. Because MS isn’t a fatal disease, people who have MS essentially have the same life expectancy as the general population.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), the majority of people who have MS will experience a relatively normal life span. On average, most people with MS live about seven years less than the general population. Those with MS tend to die from many of the same conditions, such as cancer and heart disease, as people who don’t have the condition. Apart from cases of severe MS, which are rare, the prognosis for longevity is generally good.

However, people who have MS also have to contend with other issues that can decrease their quality of life. Even though most will never become severely disabled, many experience symptoms that cause pain, discomfort, and inconvenience.

Another way of evaluating the prognosis for MS is to examine how disabilities resulting from the condition’s symptoms may affect people. According to the NMSS, around two-thirds of people 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. Others use an electric scooter or wheelchair to help them cope with fatigue or balance difficulties.

It’s hard to predict how MS will progress in every person. The severity of the disease varies widely from person to person.

  • Around 45 percent of those with MS aren’t severely affected by the disease.
  • Most people living with MS will undergo a certain amount of disease progression.

To help determine your personal prognosis, it helps to understand the risk factors that may indicate a greater chance of developing a severe form of the condition. According to the Mayo Clinic, women are twice as likely as men to develop MS. Additionally, certain factors indicate a higher risk for more severe symptoms, including the following:

  • You’re over 40 at the initial onset of symptoms.
  • Your initial symptoms affect many parts of your body.
  • Your initial symptoms affect mental functioning, urinary control, or motor control.

Prognosis is affected by the type of MS. Primary progressive MS (PPMS) is characterized by a steady decline in function without relapses or remissions. There may be some periods of inactive decline as every case is different. However, the steady progression continues.

For the relapsing forms of MS, there are several guidelines that may help predict prognosis. People with MS 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

While most people with MS have a close-to-normal life expectancy, it can be difficult for doctors to predict whether their condition will worsen or improve, since the disease varies so much from person to person. In most cases, however, MS isn’t 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. People with MS 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.

Having someone to talk to can be helpful. Get our free MS Buddy app to share advice and support in an open environment. Download for iPhone or Android.