How Multiple Sclerosis Affects Life Expectancy

The Disease's Impact on Life Expectancy

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If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), you may be wondering how the disease affects life expectancy. Are you or the person you love going to die from MS? The answer is no. The vast majority of people with MS die from the same things as everybody else - cancer, heart disease, stroke, etc. - not from their MS.

This question is completely understandable. Perhaps you've heard of someone that died from MS, such as author J.

K. Rowling’s mother. However, her situation is a very rare exception. J. K. Rowling herself has spoken about her mother having an unusually progressive form of the disease, which she refers to as "galloping." Her mother also did not receive adequate medical care due to financial constraints and other reasons.

The Effects of MS on Life Expectancy

The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation says it best: "MS tends to affect quality of life, not quantity of life." The life expectancy of a person with MS is said to be "normal:" approximately 95 percent of the national average life expectancy, which is nearly 80 years of age. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, people who have MS live on average about 7 years less than the general population.

The leading causes of death amongst those with MS include heart disease, cancer, and stroke, according to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. However, it's important to know that there are unusual cases where MS is particularly aggressive and has the potential to shorten an individual's life expectancy, but this is quite uncommon.

Even this slight reduction in life expectancy amongst those with MS is based on combining all people with MS, which is a bit misleading. The number includes and is affected by very severe cases of MS, but not the very mild ones that often go undiagnosed. A few patients who have severe disability may die due to complications of the disease, such as pneumonia, severe urinary tract infections or widespread skin breakdown from bedsores.

But even the majority of these deadly few cases can be prevented with adequate medical care.

Advances in MS Treatment

The life expectancy estimate also mostly reflects people that were not on disease-modifying treatment from an early point in their disease. These drugs only became available in the early 1990s, and advances in care for people with MS are steadily closing in on this small gap in life expectancy.

Life expectancy for those with MS continues to improve over time, which is attributable to new technology and treatments, better health care and lifestyle changes. Because so many MS-related complications are preventable and manageable, paying closer attention to an individual's general well-being can prevent these conditions from ever developing in the first place.


J.K. Rowling, I miss my mother so much - J.K. Rowling's narrative of her mother's battle with multiple sclerosis. Inside MS Summer 2002.

Carol Turkington, The A to Z of Multiple Sclerosis, Checkmark Books, 2005.

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