Most people with multiple sclerosis (MS) will have a normal or close to normal life expectancy and die from something other than MS. One study found that the life expectancy for people with MS may average around 76 years, which is about seven years less than people without MS.
Because MS rarely causes death, it is not considered a fatal disease. Research has shown that long-term medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, depression and lung disease may shorten the life of people with MS. Compared to those who only had MS, one study found that people living with MS and comorbidities were more likely to die at an earlier age.
MS usually starts in earlier life, between the ages of 20 and 40. It is a long-term disease, and there is no cure yet. However, life expectancy — how long you can live with MS — has improved over the past 25 years. Some research suggests that new MS drugs, called disease-modifying drugs, have increased life expectancy.
MS is different for everyone because it’s unpredictable. Some people have a very mild form of MS that never causes any disability. A smaller group has a severe form of MS that gets progressively worse (primary-progressive MS), which may shorten life expectancy. However, the vast majority of people with MS have a type called relapsing-remitting MS, which means this type comes and goes. Between attacks, you may have no symptoms or develop some disabilities over the years. New MS treatments are most effective for people with this type of MS.
How to live with multiple sclerosis
To achieve your best life expectancy with MS, you should work with your healthcare providers to find the best treatment for your MS and the best treatment for any other long-term medical conditions. A healthy lifestyle is also key. Exercising regularly, not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight are all important for living a longer and healthier life with MS.
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Multiple Sclerosis: Hope Through Research. January 7, 2020. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Hope-Through-Research/Multiple-Sclerosis-Hope-Through-Research. [Accessed August 7, 2020].
- Marrie RA, Elliott L, Marriott J, et al. Effect of comorbidity on mortality in multiple sclerosis. Neurology. 2015 Jul 21;85(3):240-247. doi: https://doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000001718.
- National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Study Shows Life Expectancy for People with MS Increasing Over Time, But Still Lower Than the General Population – Treating other medical conditions may increase lifespan. May 27, 2015. Available at: https://www.nationalmssociety.org/About-the-Society/News/Study-Shows-Life-Expectancy-for-People-with-MS-Inc. [Accessed August 7, 2020].
- Kingwell E, Leray E, Zhu F, et al. Multiple sclerosis: effect of beta interferon treatment on survival. Brain. 2019 May;142(5):1324–1333. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/awz055.