Almost one million people in the United States live with multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is a chronic neurological condition affecting the nerve fibers in the central nervous system.
Receiving a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis is difficult, and it can be even tougher to really understand what that prognosis means in terms of your quality of life. Read more about what a prognosis of MS means for your life expectancy and more.
What Is Multiple Sclerosis? Symptoms and Causes
MS is an autoimmune condition, which is a type of condition that leads your immune system to attack healthy cells by mistake. With MS, your immune system attacks the cells in myelin, which you can think of as protective covers over the nerves in your brain and spinal cord. The most common symptoms of MS are:
- Changes in gait
- Tingling or numbness in arms or legs
- Muscle spasms
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of balance
- Loss of coordination
Although the exact causes of multiple sclerosis are not fully understood, scientists believe that certain factors trigger the condition. One of these factors is the exposure to certain bacteria or viruses, including the Epstein-Barr virus.
Another factor that might trigger MS is your environment. Areas farther from the equator tend to have higher numbers of MS cases, which may mean that those who receive less sun are more at risk because having lower levels of vitamin D seems to be a risk factor.
Having a family member with MS also increases your chances of developing the condition. It’s not yet clear, however, what gene mutations are responsible for the condition.
Types of Multiple Sclerosis
Most people assume that there is only one type of MS, but there are four. The most common type is relapsing-remitting MS. With this version of MS, you experience flare-ups with new symptoms or existing symptoms that get worse. You then experience a period of remission.
Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) is another type. People who have the first episode of MS symptoms usually get this diagnosis until they have another episode. Not everyone who has an episode of CIS goes on to develop MS.
Another version of MS is primary progressive MS. People with this type experience symptoms that gradually get worse without any periods of remission.
Secondary progressive MS is when you continue to accumulate nerve damage. Symptoms get worse, though you may also experience some flare-ups. Most people with this type of MS do not experience remission.
Stages of MS and Their Effect on Prognosis
Because MS is a condition that gradually gets worse, the stage in which you receive your diagnosis is an important factor in your prognosis. There are early, middle, and late stages.
MS, in its early stages, presents with a series of relapses and remissions. You may experience mild to moderate mobility issues, as well as sensory function and cognition problems. When caught at this stage, most people have a better prognosis.
The middle stage of MS is when the milder symptoms get worse, seriously impacting coordination, mobility, and cognitive function. This is when rehabilitation interventions are crucial.
The late MS stage is when there’s severe disability, including cognitive decline, mobility impairments, and other complications. To manage daily life, you’ll need substantial assistance at this stage.
By catching the diagnosis as early as possible, you may have a better prognosis because all manner of interventions is available to help you minimize the progression of the conditon.
Multiple Sclerosis and Life Expectancy
Although MS is a chronic condition, it doesn’t mean you will have a shorter life. Most people with MS have a life expectancy similar to those in the general population.
One of the concerns of MS is that it can increase your risk of developing other conditions, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Urinary tract infections
Some of the factors that can make your prognosis better, however, are if you are under 40 when diagnosed and female.
Your Prognosis: How Doctors Determine It
To give you as accurate a prognosis as possible, doctors consider a variety of clinical facts, including those they obtain from evaluations, image testing, and neurological examinations. To measure the progression of the condtion, most physicians turn to a number of scoring systems, including the Expanded Disability Status Scale.
This scale assesses the rate of disability throughout many categories. Using the scale to see the progression of the condition over time, your doctor is able to give you a more accurate prognosis.
Your lifestyle is another factor doctors consider when making your prognosis. If you smoke or drink a significant amount of alcohol, you may have a more negative prognosis.
This effect is because smoking can accelerate the progression of the illness while also affecting the efficacy of some treatments. By moderating alcohol and stopping the use of nicotine, you can help yourself.
To improve your prognosis, adding exercise to your daily life is also vital. Regular physical exercise helps improve muscle strength, coordination, balance, and more while also improving your overall mood.
Your dietary choices also play a role in your prognosis. It is essential to stick to a well-balanced diet that promotes immune function and overall health. This means you want to eat primarily vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains.
Aside from the physical impact of MS in your life, your doctors also consider how the condition affects your psyche. Having a support system is one of the most important things you can do. This support can help you see that you are not alone and boost your mood and hope.
Living With Multiple Sclerosis
Because multiple sclerosis affects your daily activities, finding ways to live with the condition can be essential. Maintaining an active life and having support are both crucial but so is knowing what treatment options are out there.
Regenerative medicine, also known as stem cell therapy, is a common explored option for the management of MS. By turning to stem cell therapy, you may be able to help slow down progression and help improve symptoms. Consider asking your doctor about stem cell therapy for MS.