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MS Doesn’t Discriminate

More than 2.3 million people worldwide and nearly 1 million in the United States are living with MS. And while it doesn’t discriminate, experts have noticed that gender, age, race, genetics, and geographic location may be linked to MS.

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The different types of MS

While we can’t predict how an individual's RMS will progress, there are 3 basic disease courses, or "types," that healthcare providers use to diagnose and treat their patients. The types are based on how far the disease has progressed in patients.

Of all MS types, relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) is the most common. About 85% of people with MS are initially diagnosed with RRMS because there are clear signs of relapses or flare-ups that result in episodes of intense worsening of neurologic function. These relapses are followed by periods when symptoms partially or completely go away (remissions).

Quick Facts

  • Most people with RRMS are diagnosed in their 20s and 30s.
  • Women are affected 2 to 3 times as often as men.
  • The most common symptoms of RRMS are: fatigue, numbness, vision problems, spasticity or stiffness, bowel and bladder problems, and problems with cognition.
  • Transition from RRMS to secondary progressive MS (SPMS) generally happens after living with RRMS for at least 10 years.

Following an initial period of RRMS, some people develop secondary progressive MS (SPMS). This type is characterized by worsening symptoms and disability. It’s also less common to have periods of remission and relapse.

Quick Facts

  • Without treatment, about 50% of people with RRMS go on to develop SPMS within 10 years, and 90% transition within 25 years.
  • The speed of progression in SPMS varies significantly from person to person.
  • The more you can describe your symptoms throughout the course of your disease, the better. Knowing how your symptoms change over time can help you and your doctor discuss treatment options and expected outcomes. Check out our doctor discussion guide for tips on how to keep conversations productive.

In this type, MS progresses slowly yet steadily from the time of onset. Patients with primary progressive MS (PPMS) experience a continuous worsening of their condition, but there can be variations in the rate of progression over time—as well as possible minor improvements and occasional plateaus in symptom progression.

Quick Facts

  • About 15% of people living with MS are diagnosed with this type of MS.
  • The number of women and men affected by PPMS is nearly equal.
  • The average age of onset is almost a decade later in PPMS than in RMS.
  • People with PPMS tend to experience more problems with walking.

If your MS is active, you can talk to your doctor about starting a disease-modifying therapy to reduce the risk of relapse.

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From the Nurses' Station

Knowing which questions to ask and what type of information your doctor is looking for can help you get the most out of your doctor’s appointment.

Get tips on how to talk to your doctor.

See Doctor Discussion Guide

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Next Up: Understanding the impact of RMS

Knowing how RMS affects the body can help you better understand the condition and its symptoms.

Read On
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Keeping tabs on RMS symptoms

When you communicate the ins and outs of your symptoms, you and your healthcare team can determine how to best manage them.

Record Symptom Changes