How Does MS Progress?

How Does MS Progress?
Most people with MS experience related symptoms between the ages of 20 and 50. Although rare, children and the elderly may also develop MS. Women are three times more likely to be diagnosed with MS than men. Plotting a course for the progression of MS for each individual is nearly impossible, due to a large number of variables. The severity or location of lesions (inflammation) plays an important role because, depending on their location, each individual is affected differently and the effects vary over time.

When an MS patient experiences symptoms it is referred to as a “relapse” or “exacerbation.” Thus, when the symptoms subside they are called “remissions.”

Symptoms are not the only way to mark progression of MS. MS can also be invisible, or silent, and progress by loss of axons (axons are the fibers that extend from the nerve cells). It is important to understand that many people with MS say they feel fine and appear so. The disease could very well be active and progressing. This may be evidenced by such diagnostic procedures like MRI which may show new or extended lesions.

The disease can be very mild to steadily progressive:

RELAPSING-REMITTING MS (RRMS): This is the form of MS that most people (about 75%) are diagnosed with at onset of the disease and the most common. MS patients with this form have relapses, but then have partial or complete recovery.

BENIGN MS (BMS): This form of MS is identified after one or two attacks, followed by complete recovery. The disease does not worsen and disability is not permanent. Some MS patients thought initially to have relapsing-remitting MS, actually have benign MS. This is identified when there is no evidence of disability 10 to15 years after onset.

SECONDARY PROGRESSIVE MS (SPMS): More than 50% of the 75% who start with relapsing-remitting MS will develop SPMS within 10 years; 90% within 25 years. Relapses continue with a more gradual loss of physical and cognitive function.

PRIMARY PROGRESSIVE MS (PPMS): This is when MS takes a progressive course from the onset. Although patients experience no specific relapses, as with RRMS and SPMS, their disabilities do not enter into remission. In other words, the patient does not experience continuing acute attacks, but their existing disability progresses. This form affects some 10 to 15% of people with MS.

PROGRESSIVE-RELAPSING MS (PRMS): This form of MS is quite rare. It follows a progressive course from the onset, as with PPMS, but is characterized by obvious acute attacks. Only 6 to 10% of patients are diagnosed with PRMS.

Two out of three MS sufferers will go through life with only minor disabilities. Many will need no assistance. Some may require a cane for support. Roughly 15% will become severely disabled, requiring the use of a wheelchair. This may be a result of a crippling effect or severe energy loss.

Life expectancy for people with MS is near normal (95% of normal life expectancy).