Most MS affected people have a relatively normal life span, with their life span being shortened by only a few years. Their life expectancy is something around 35 years after the onset of the condition. Almost 70% of the patients eventually face physical limitations.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is believed to be an autoimmune disorder that affects the central nervous system, wherein the body’s immune system suspects a part of the body to be a foreign body and attacks it. The consequence of the body attacking its own body part is reduction in the ability to feel, move, or control bodily functions.
Over 2,50,000 people have been affected in the US by this disorder, most of whom have experienced their first symptoms between the ages of 20 and 40. Multiple sclerosis symptoms rarely occur before the age of fifteen and after 60, with women being more prone to this condition than men.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Nerve cells in the body are called neurons. These neurons permit the conduction of nerve messages (electrical impulses) throughout the body. To prevent the nerve messages from leaking out, a thin layer of tissue called myelin is present, surrounding the neurons. Myelin acts as an insulator and prevents electrical impulses from seeping out of the nerve cells. When this myelin surrounding the nerves of the central nervous system gets destroyed, then the condition called multiple sclerosis occurs.
Myelin loss causes the nerve impulses to gradually seep out of the neurons. Eventually, scar tissue formation occurs around the damaged myelin. The scar tissue called plaque reduces the normal functioning of the neuron. This damage to the myelin tissue spearheads a number of symptoms in the body. The afflicted may lose the ability to use senses such as sight and touch. Loss of muscle control may also occur, resulting in problems with coordination, balance, and strength.
Prognosis for Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis occurs in seven different patterns, wherein, in each pattern, the afflicted person will experience a sudden deterioration in normal physical abilities. Mostly, MS begins with an acute flare-up of symptoms within few hours to few days. This is called a relapse or attack. Among the first symptoms of MS is optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve) causing visual deterioration and painfulness of eye movement. However, it should be noted that not all patients suffering from optic neuritis develop MS. The other frequently observed initial symptoms are sensory disturbances like numbness and tingling sensations.
During the early stages of MS, the symptoms frequently resolve themselves spontaneously within few days or months. Thus, this condition is called ‘relapsing remitting’. Fresh relapses can arise within a few weeks to many years, comprising new or earlier experienced symptoms. Certain MRI studies have revealed that further nerve damage can continue in relapsing remitting people, even when the symptoms subside. This fact makes it even more important to focus on preventive treatment of MS. In several cases, MS course changes after quite a few years and the symptoms begin to subside slowly with or without superimposed relapses. This is called secondary chronic-progressive or secondary progressive. Then again, there are some people staying in a relapsing-remitting course all their lives.
Approximately 10% of all MS-affected people undergo chronic progression without relapses from early symptoms. This is called primary progressive condition of MS and encompasses weakness in legs, bladder disturbances, and gait. The degenerative processes are considered to play a crucial role in the course of this disease. Chronic progression from the early symptoms with superimposed relapses is called relapsing progressive.
It is very difficult to predict the progression of MS in a particular person. In fact many people diagnosed with MS are observed to walk and go to work regularly, even after several years of their diagnosis. Less than 5% of people with MS have the severe progressive form, resulting in death within a period of five years. On the other hand 10-20% of people with MS have a benign form, featuring no or slow progression of symptoms. Recent studies reveal that 7 out of 10 people with MS are alive 25 years after their diagnosis.
MS is considered to shorten the life of a man by 11 years and of a woman by 6 years. In younger patients, the cause of death is mostly suicide. For most people with MS, the life expectancy is about 35 years after the appearance of the symptoms. Moreover, the earlier the onset of MS symptoms occur, the slower the disability progresses. This is because at a later age, chronic progressive courses with faster accumulation of disability takes place.
Two-thirds of MS patients with low disability after 5 years, will not show deterioration of condition within the next ten years. One in every three patients is able to work 15-20 years. During relapsing remitting stage of initial disease, the statistical time duration for the need of a wheelchair is 20 years. For primary progressive conditions, a wheelchair will be needed after almost 6-7 years. Physical limitations caused by this condition are seen in about 70% of the patients.
The data regarding the prognosis of this condition was acquired before the introduction of immunomodulatory drugs 10 years ago. The advent of these drugs has delayed the progression for over several years. A lot of research, clinical study, and experiments are being carried out on a continuous basis for its prevention.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.