MS: What will happen to me?

MS is a long-term health condition that damages the nerves in your brain and spinal cord. It can cause problems with movement, coordination, vision, thinking, memory, bowel and bladder control, and fatigue. In some people, these symptoms can get worse, or new symptoms can develop, over time. In others, symptoms come and go.

But not everyone experiences the same symptoms at the same time. MS is an unpredictable condition - it is difficult to tell how the disease will affect you in the future because no two people are the same.

But there are some clues to help you. Based on your symptoms and the results of medical tests, your doctor may be able to tell you more about the type of MS that you have and what to expect in the future. The way that your MS behaves in the first 5 years can give some clues as to what may happen over the long term.

There are four main types of MS, each with their own pattern of symptoms and progression over time. While knowing which type of MS you have is no guarantee of what will happen in the long term, it can give you some extra information to help you plan for the future.

The four main types of MS are:

  • Relapsing-remitting MS: Most people (about 75%) have this type of MS. With this type, you experience flare-ups of symptoms followed by remissions.
  • Primary progressive MS: Only about 10% to 15% of people with MS have this type. Symptoms slowly but steadily get worse over time.
  • Secondary-progressive MS: This type of MS starts out as relapsing-remitting MS, then changes to a slow but steady worsening of the symptoms. Before disease-modifying medications were available, about half of people with relapsing-remitting MS eventually developed secondary progressive MS. It is not yet known whether these medications will reduce this risk.
  • Progressive-relapsing MS: This is the rarest form of MS, affecting only about 5% of people with MS. With this type, there are symptom flare-ups with a slow steady worsening of the disease between flare-ups.

It's also important to understand that MS can also cause "silent damage" - it can continue to damage your brain and spinal cord even when you aren't having symptoms. The unpredictability of MS can make it tough to deal with, both physically and emotionally. But there are things you can do to make a difference. Some treatments can help slow the progression of certain types of MS and help you manage your symptoms. See "How can MS medications help me?" for more information.

Talk to your doctor about what you can do to fight MS over the long term.

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