Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a lifelong condition in which a person’s immune system attacks the myelin sheath that insulates and protects nerves within the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include extreme fatigue, chronic pain, and more.

An MS diagnosis may come with feelings of fear, sadness, and concern about living with a chronic condition. However, there is hope because of the many treatment options available. Although MS is a serious health concern, people with MS can live long, happy lives.

This article will discuss MS life expectancy, strategies to improve quality of life after an MS diagnosis, and financial and workplace support options.

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Does MS Shorten Life Expectancy?

A multiple sclerosis diagnosis can bring fears of reduced quality of life and a shorter life span. Research shows that people with MS have a life expectancy of seven to 14 years less than those who do not have MS. However, treatment options are advancing, and people with MS are living longer than ever before.

MS complications can lead to premature death, but it is so rare that MS is not considered a fatal disease.

Factors That Affect MS Life Span

Some factors that affect the life span of people with MS are things that can be changed, such as lifestyle habits. Addressing overall well-being and seeking treatment for comorbidities (additional health conditions occurring at the same time) are crucial for increased life expectancy in people with MS.

Research shows that people with MS and other health conditions have a shorter life expectancy than people with only MS. Some health concerns that occur with MS and can decrease life expectancy include:

Gender

Women with MS live an average of five years longer than men with MS. This may make it seem as though men are more likely to have MS complications that lead to death, but that is not the case. Women without MS live an average of five years longer than men without MS, so gender does not affect MS life expectancy.

Treatment Accessibility and Affordability

Multiple sclerosis care, treatments, and medications increase the life expectancy of people living with MS. Unfortunately, not all patients with MS have access to ongoing care or the resources to afford treatments.

People with MS face additional challenges due to:

  • Difficulty getting to appointments because of transportation issues or physical disability
  • Challenges around communication with providers during appointments (e.g., limited time for discussion and questions)
  • Gaps in care due to failures in the referral or follow-up process

Lifestyle

Lifestyle choices can help improve outcomes for people with MS. Mindfulness and stress relief practices reduce anxiety, depression, and stress in people with MS.

Nutrition and exercise habits can impact symptoms of MS. Eating vegetables, fruit, legumes (beans, nuts, and seeds), fish, and prebiotics and probiotics can improve inflammation. Regular physical activity is associated with decreased disability in people with MS.

Here are some lifestyle changes to increase longevity with MS:

  • Stop smoking.
  • Follow through with MS care recommendations and treatments.
  • Manage other health conditions.
  • Prioritize sleep.
  • Manage stress.
  • Be physically active.
  • Eat a nutritious diet including vegetables and fruits.

Timing and Diagnosis

People who begin to show signs and symptoms of MS at a young age are more likely to have a shorter life expectancy than those whose symptoms start later. Childhood MS tends to be more severe than MS beginning in adulthood.

When looking into research about death rates and timing of MS diagnosis, it is important to consider that testing and diagnostic processes have improved over time, so people are diagnosed closer to disease onset.

This means that older studies reporting shorter life expectancy after diagnosis do not tell the whole story because, at that time, there was more disease progression than today.

Culture and Mental Health

People with MS commit suicide at an increased rate compared to the general population. Part of this may be due to the symptoms of MS and the physical and health challenges associated with living with a lifelong illness.

However, research shows that there is a strong link between increased suicide rates and cultural biases, with higher rates of MS-related suicides in places with increased bias.

Effect on Quality of Life

Living with MS can impact quality of life. This condition affects everyone differently, but there are some similarities among people with MS. For example, many people with MS experience physical disabilities, anxiety, depression, and fatigue that make it challenging to work or enjoy activities with family and friends.

MS may affect:

  • Career or education
  • Family and social life
  • Mental health
  • Physical health

MS symptoms can range from mild to severe and may come and go over time. Quality of life may fluctuate with symptoms. Physical disability and depression may have the greatest impact on quality of life, so it is vital to seek treatment in these areas.

Financial Assistance and Workplace Accommodations

Due to the potentially severe and disabling symptoms of MS, many people with the condition find it challenging to work. Up to 80% of people with MS are unemployed, leading to hardships paying for living expenses, treatment, and care.

Factors that increase the risk of work limitations include:

  • Coping in ways that do not improve MS symptoms, health, and well-being
  • Increased mental symptoms such as anxiety and depression
  • Increased physical symptoms such as fatigue and pain
  • Low self-efficacy and feelings of not being in control of what happens
  • Sleep problems that occur with MS

Workplace Accommodations

There are laws protecting people with disabilities from workplace discrimination. In many cases, employers must make accommodations so that people with disabilities get equal opportunities compared to other employees. Workplace accommodations include:

  • Changes in responsibilities or roles
  • Flexible schedule, extra breaks, and time off
  • Mental health resources
  • Safety and mobility aids in the workplace (e.g., ramps, handrails in bathrooms)
  • Workstation items and services (e.g., adjustable desk and chair, talk-to-type program)

Financial Assistance

Financial assistance is available to people with MS to help cover the cost of:

  • Food
  • General expenses
  • Health insurance
  • Medication
  • Natural disasters and emergencies
  • Summer camps for kids living with someone affected by MS
  • Veterans and military support needs

Ways to Improve Your Outlook With MS

Despite the challenges that come with MS, there are ways to improve your outlook and live a happy life. How a person thinks and feels about their condition and their ability to manage, cope, and live with their health challenges can affect outcomes.

People with high levels of self-esteem are more likely to feel they can influence their MS symptoms and are more likely to make lifestyle and behavioral changes for better health, which can lead to improved symptoms.

Improve MS Outlook

Some ways to improve your perspective on MS are:

  • Build and nurture relationships.
  • Manage stress.
  • Monitor your mood.
  • Practice solution-based problem solving.
  • Recognize family needs.
  • Stay centered.

Summary

Multiple sclerosis is a lifelong medical condition that can lead to disability and a shortened life span. However, it is possible to live a long, happy life with MS. Practices for diagnosing and treating MS are improving, and life expectancy is increasing with these advancements. There are options to manage symptoms and resources for additional MS challenges.

A Word From Verywell

Being diagnosed and living with multiple sclerosis is challenging. It may come with fears of not being able to enjoy life and even fears of a shortened life span. Fortunately, there are many treatment options, resources, and ways to cope with MS to improve quality of life. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with MS, reach out to a healthcare provider for support. It is possible to live a long, happy life with MS.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do MS symptoms become worse with age?

    Sometimes. There are various forms of MS, and the symptoms of each vary. Relapse-remitting MS symptoms can worsen over time. Benign MS is when a person with MS has no worsening symptoms over 15 years.

  • What triggers relapse-remitting MS?

    The causes and triggers of relapse-remitting MS are not fully understood. However, research shows a virus called Epstein-Barr and environmental and lifestyle habits such as smoking may trigger this type of MS.

  • What should you look for when researching MS specialists near you?

    Choosing a healthcare provider to support a lifelong condition is a personal decision. Finding a specialist that aligns with the patient’s treatment and management goals is important.

https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-a-multiple-sclerosis-prognosis-actually-means-5225415