How Does MS influence Your Life Span?

MS is not considered a fatal disease, but it may influence lifespan

Multiple Sclerosis, Consultation. Credit: BSIP / Contributor / Getty Images

Many people wonder what impact multiple sclerosis will have on their life expectancy. They wonder, especially when newly diagnosed, if MS can be a cause of death. That is a good question and one that I'm often asked.

Can MS Lead to Death?

The truth is that it is very rare that someone dies directly from multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis itself is not considered a fatal disease and the symptoms of MS do not, typically, lead to death.

This, of course, is good news. 

The "bad news" is that emerging research has found that MS may affect life expectancy to some degree. A 2014 study of more than 30,000 people with MS and 89,000 people without MS found that people with MS may have a somewhat reduced lifespan—about six years less than those without MS. However, there were some limitations and gaps in this study: The authors didn't observe the type or severity of MS in that group, and the participants' other medical conditions (and how they influenced lifespan) were not followed throughout the course of the study.

I would imagine, then, that the authors also didn't look at whether the MS patients were receiving treatment for their disease. A 2012 report in the journal Neurology showed that people with MS who take disease-modifying medications have a better life expectancy than those who don't.

Why Having MS Means You Need to Be More Health-Conscious 

With that being said, as someone with multiple sclerosis, you still need to worry about all the other leading causes of chronic disease and death, such as heart disease, cancer and stroke.

In fact, if your multiple sclerosis limits your ability to exercise, your risk for some of these other diseases may increase (in this case, multiple sclerosis symptoms may contribute to, but not cause, death).

In other words, you still have to exercise and eat right just like everybody else—and it's extremely important that you do given that you're already dealing with health challenges.

A 2015 study published in the journal Neurology evaluated the impacts of disease-related complications and comorbidities (multiple health conditions) on life expectancy in people with MS, and found that people with MS and comorbidities were more likely to die younger than people with just MS. And not surprisingly, having diabetes, coronary (heart) artery disease, depression, lung disease and other conditions increased the risk of death in people with and without MS.

Having MS gives you even more reason to tend to all of the aspects of your health: diet, mental health, any addictions you may be dealing with, and your physical activity level. 


Medline Plus. Multiple Sclerosis

D.W. Kaufman, S. Reshef, H.L. Golub, M. Peucker, M.J. Corwin, D.S. Goodin, V. Knappertz, D. Pleimes, G. Cutter. SURVIVAL IN COMMERCIALLY INSURED MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS PATIENTS AND COMPARATOR SUBJECTS IN THE U.S. Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders, 2013.

Marrie R, Elliott L, Marriott J, et al. Effect of comorbidity on mortality in multiple sclerosis. Neurology. 2015

Goodin et al. "Survival in MS: A randomized cohort study 21 years after the start of the pivotal IFNβ-1b trial." Neurology. 2012.  

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