About 400,000 Americans and 2.5 million people worldwide are suffering from multiple sclerosis. Every case of multiple sclerosis (MS) is unique. It is an inflammatory disease of the brain and the spinal cord. The white matter present inside these organs is made up of nerve fibers that transmit the communication signals to/from the body. Patches of damage called plaques or lesions appear in random areas of the white matter of the central nervous system (CNS), in people diagnosed with MS.
The damage caused due to MS is very unpredictable and variable. Which areas of the CNS are affected and how badly they are damaged, determine the condition of the person. Therefore, the type and severity of the symptoms may vary greatly from person to person. Patients of MS can experience partial or complete loss of any function that is controlled by or passed through, the brain or spinal cord. The type and severity of the symptoms determine multiple sclerosis life expectancy.
Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
You just name it and you will find that symptom in this list. Symptoms of MS are innumerable and it is impossible to enlist them here. The important and most common symptoms are listed here. People diagnosed with MS can experience any of the following symptoms, either fully or partially. Detection of early symptoms and signs of MS helps slow down the progression of the disease.
- Slurred speech
- Tingling, pins and needles
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle spasms
- Loss of balance
- Spasticity, cramps and pain
- Loss of sexual function
- Blindness, blurred or double vision
- Incontinence, urinary urgency or hesitancy
- Short term memory problems
- Other forms of cognitive dysfunction
- Inability to swallow
- Inability to control breathing
- Disabling fatigue
MS is a chronic autoimmune disease where the body's immune system itself, attacks a part of the body, suspecting the part as a 'foreign body'. It may begin with an acute flare-up of symptoms within few hours to few days, which is called a relapse or attack. A sudden discomfort in normal physical activities can be experienced by the person. The symptoms in the early stage often resolve themselves spontaneously, after a few days or months. This situation is known as 'relapsing remitting'. Even when the symptoms subside, further nerve damage can continue in relapsing-remitting people. In such cases, focus is laid on the treatment for MS prevention. Regarding MS prognosis, diagnosing the severity of the disease and assessing whether the disease is progressive, remains a daunting task for the doctors. Due to the unpredictable flare-ups, relapses and remissions; predicting 'multiple sclerosis life expectancy' is quite difficult. Aggressive MS, that reduces the life span quickly, is noticed in very few cases. In majority of the cases, it is observed that patients live a near-normal life expectancy, with some limitations in the normal activities.
Progressive Multiple Sclerosis
The age of onset of MS is broad, the range is 20-40 years. About 10% of all MS patients experience chronic progression without relapses. This is called primary progressive condition of MS. In progressive MS, symptoms slowly accumulate over time. When new symptoms occur in discrete attacks, it is called relapsing forms of MS. Between two consecutive attacks, symptoms may go away completely. But the patients have to face permanent neurological problems, especially when the disease advances. Majority of patients with MS do not become severely disabled; but quality of life is definitely affected.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for MS. Suicide rates among MS patients are higher than average. After an attack, doctors try their best to prevent the recurrence of an attack in future and lower the risk of disability. The prognosis depends on the age, sex, overall mental and physical health of the patient, type of the disease, the individual's specific symptoms, the early stage symptoms and the degree of disability the person experiences as time advances. Progression of MS in a particular person cannot be exactly predicted; but it has been observed that the life expectancy of the patients is nearly the same as that of the normal population. For almost all MS patients, the life expectancy is about 27 years after the appearance of the symptoms. Studies show that if MS symptoms are noticed in the earlier stages, then the progression of the disease can be slowed down with the help of disease-modifying drugs. In 10% of patients, initial disease is primary progressive and the life expectancy is not greatly affected.
Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis
Patients who have had relapsing or remitting MS pass into a secondary progressive stage of MS, usually 6-10 years after the onset of the disease. In this phase, a gradual worsening of the disease between relapses is noticed. With the help of the studies conducted so far, it can be stated that after 10 years, 50% of people with relapsing-remitting MS would develop secondary progressive MS and by 25 to 30 years, that figure would rise to 90%. Generally, the disease takes more than 30 years to reach the final stage.
Aggressive Multiple Sclerosis
MS is called aggressive MS when the disease progresses very rapidly from the onset, leading to severe disability within a relatively short period. It can lead to death within a few weeks. Fortunately, this form of MS is extremely rare. The acute form of MS or aggressive MS can almost immediately result in death. Otherwise, MS is not considered a fatal disease and the symptoms of MS do not typically lead to death. MS affects the body systems and the risk of catching infections like pneumonia and suffering due to other diseases increases.
Facts about MS inform us that the life expectancy for this disease is actually identical to the life expectancy of everyone else - almost 80 years in the U.S. So take care of those patients and help them to live as best as they can with multiple sclerosis, because they'll be dealing with it for a long, long time.