So what is the life expectancy for people with MS? There isn’t one clear answer. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates that, on average, someone with MS lives about seven years less than the general population. A study of 30,000 people in the U.S. with MS found they lived six years less, on average, than those without MS.
Multiple sclerosis itself is not the cause of death, since MS is not inherently fatal. Rather, the symptoms caused by the progression of MS can lead to other conditions that are ultimately fatal. Pneumonia, infections, and falls are common causes of death directly connected to the symptoms of MS.
“MS is not a fatal disease,” one member said. “However, this can lead to other illnesses and problems as a result of how MS can affect your life. If you become less active, you may be at risk of heart problems, or someone may fall due to mobility problems.”
MS Factors Related to Life Expectancy
There are a variety of factors related to MS prognosis. These include sex, age at disease onset, the level of recovery from the first outbreak, MS relapses, and central nervous system (CNS) involvement. In general, women with MS have a better prognosis than men, as do people who are younger at the time of MS onset. African Americans are more likely to have a primary progressive form of MS. People who recover from their first outbreak completely have a better prognosis than those who do not. Infrequent MS relapses and less cerebellar and CNS involvement are also associated with a better prognosis.
The different types of MS have different prognoses. Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) typically has a better prognosis than primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS) or secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS). Since RRMS allows complete or partial recovery from symptoms before relapse, there is less disability associated with it. Secondary progressive MS, which occurs when someone with a previous RRMS diagnosis has worsening symptoms, indicates a more systemic condition. Since primary progressive MS does not follow the pattern of relapse and recovery, and more neurological symptoms occur with it, it is associated with the poorest prognosis of all. One member reported feeling guilty when a friend with a more progressive form of MS passed away: “I felt guilty because he had PPMS, and I didn’t, and I had a life still in front of me.”
A rare type of MS is associated with a very dire prognosis — Marburg-type MS, sometimes referred to as fulminant multiple sclerosis. This condition progresses even more rapidly than PPMS and can lead to death in weeks or months.
Other Factors That Influence Prognosis
MS isn’t the only issue some people are dealing with. Other medical conditions and comorbidities can affect the disease course.
One study found the most common comorbid conditions for people with MS were high cholesterol, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal disorders, thyroid disease, anxiety, depression, and chronic lung disease. Almost 30 percent of those with MS had either high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Up to 20 percent had some form of gastrointestinal disorder. Thyroid disease was present in 12 percent to 17 percent, and anxiety, depression, and chronic lung disease were each present in 5 percent to 10 percent of those studied. All of those conditions are associated with a decrease in life expectancy (including depression and anxiety). To read this article in its entirety click here: MS Prognosis: Multiple Sclerosis Life Expectancy