After MS diagnosis: What's ahead?

MS is an unpredictable condition. There's no way to tell for sure what will happen in the future. But knowing which type of MS you have and staying informed can give you more information about what you may expect.

There are 4 types of MS:

  • relapsing-remitting MS
  • secondary progressive MS
  • primary progressive MS
  • progressive relapsing MS

About 75% of people with MS have relapsing-remitting MS. With relapsing-remitting MS, symptoms come and go. There are periods where symptoms get worse, called flares or relapses, followed by periods of remission, where symptoms are not noticeable.

Some people with relapsing-remitting MS go on to develop secondary progressive MS. Before disease-modifying medications for MS were available, about half of all people with relapsing-remitting MS went on to develop secondary progressive MS 10 years after they were first diagnosed. Currently, it is not known how much the disease-modifying medications (which can slow disease progression) will change this statistic.

With secondary progressive MS, people start off with flares and remissions and then find that their disease gets gradually but consistently more severe, causing more disability over time.

With primary progressive MS, the disease gradually gets worse over time. Unlike relapsing-remitting MS, there are no flares or remissions. But sometimes there are small "plateaus" where symptoms do not get worse. This is an uncommon type of MS that affects about 10% to 15% of all people with MS.

Progressive relapsing MS is the least common form of MS, affecting about 5% of all people with MS. People with progressive relapsing MS have gradual, steady worsening of their condition plus occasional flares or relapses.

Just as there are different types of MS, there are different severities within each type. Therefore, one person's experience with relapsing-remitting MS will not be exactly the same as another's. Some people may experience mild disability while others may experience disability that can have a more profound impact on their daily lives. Talk to your doctor about which type of MS you have, how severe it is, and what you can do to improve your future outcomes.

Another factor that can affect your future with MS is new medical research into treatments and how the disease works. Every day, scientists are gaining a clearer understanding of how to better predict and improve the future for people with MS. Talk to your doctor or your local MS society, or do your own research on the Internet or through the Multiple Sclerosis Society to stay abreast of new MS research that may affect your future.

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