MS is not a terminal condition and long-term studies suggest that multiple sclerosis only has a small impact on life expectancy.

A study in Canada examined this area in terms of level of disability and found that life expectancy for those people whose experience of MS ranged from no symptoms to full time use of a manual wheelchair (less than or equal to 7.0 on the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) was only slightly reduced.

The research found that people with more complex disability (EDSS greater than or equal to 7.5) were more at risk of potentially life threatening complications - such as respiratory or cardiovascular problems - that can result from reduced mobility, and this affected the overall life expectancy figures. With this group included, overall life expectancy for people with MS was only about six to seven years less than that for the general population.

This effect has been seen in other studies of health insurance records - for instance an American study of data collected between 1996 and 2009 and a Canadian study with records from 1984 to 2012 both found that life expectancy was on average six years less for people with multiple sclerosis.

The disease modifying drugs for relapsing MS began to appear in the mid 1990s, so many of the people in the study would not have had access to these treatments for part of their time with the condition. The researchers therefore suggested more studies over longer periods to see if the arrival of the drugs has affected lifespan.


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  • Ragonese P, et al. Mortality in multiple sclerosis: a review. European Journal of Neurology 2008;15(2):123-127. Summary
  • Kaufman DW, et al. Survival in commercially insured multiple sclerosis patients and comparator subjects in the US. Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders 2014;3(3):364–371. Full article (PDF)
  • Marrie RD, et al. Effect of comorbidity on mortality in multiple sclerosis. Neurology 2015;85(3):240-247. Full article (PDF)

Last updated: 28 May 2015
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