FAQs about MS prognosis and life expectancy

Multiple sclerosis itself is not usually lethal, but it can increase the risk of long-term complications, such as infections or trouble swallowing, that can potentially shorten survival. On average, longevity is about five to 10 years shorter in people with MS.

The ways in which multiple sclerosis manifests vary considerably in each person with the disorder. On average, the time from disease onset to needing the aid of a cane, crutch, or other assistive device to walk even short distances is about 30 years. But some patients may experience substantial disability soon after the onset of disease, while others may live with MS for far longer than three decades without ever developing truly disabling symptoms. Rates of progression are affected by numerous factors, including the type of MS, treatments, and biological and lifestyle differences.

Multiple sclerosis is not terminal. How long a person can live with MS often is linked to treatment and lifestyle factors. Living well despite MS may require some lifestyle adjustments, such as exercising and cutting back smoking, as well as treatment and regular monitoring to improve long-term outcomes. As the disease progresses, it may impair patients’ ability to function independently, reduce quality of life, and cause cognitive difficulties. These changes also may require patients to make adjustments and find accommodations in day-to-day life.

In multiple sclerosis, the immune system continuously damages the nervous system, even when patients are experiencing only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. For this reason, it is generally recommended that patients start treatment as early as possible. Starting therapy sooner more effectively prevents the accumulation of disability later on in the disease course. Early treatment can increase a patient’s likelihood of being an MS survivor for longer.

Multiple sclerosis can make it difficult to walk, and some patients will eventually rely on a wheelchair to help them get around and retain their independence. Though there is substantial variability from person to person, it is estimated that about one-quarter of patients receiving modern treatments will require a wheelchair within about 35 years of their diagnosis.

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