Life Expectancy and Quality of Life in Multiple Sclerosis

How Long You Live Is Based on so Many Factors and MS Is Just One of Them

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If you or a loved one has multiple sclerosis (MS), it's normal to wonder about the impact of MS on life expectancy and quality of life.

Longevity in Multiple Sclerosis

The life expectancy of a person with MS is said to be about seven years less than someone in the general population, with some people dying from MS-related complications and others dying from other medical conditions like heart disease. In other words, the prognosis for longevity is reasonably favorable, except in rare circumstances in which a person develops very severe, quickly progressing MS.

That being said, this finding of "seven years less" is simply a statistic and does not predict the life expectancy of any one person with MS. The type of MS a person has, whether they are taking a disease-modifying treatment, other medical problems, and a person's general health (for example, their weight, eating habits, whether they smoke or not) are additional factors that may affect a person's life expectancy.

Quality of Life in Multiple Sclerosis

Besides the number of years that a person with MS will live, many people wonder about the impact of MS on the everyday quality of life.

Predicting your individual quality of life (or your loved's one) is challenging, as so many factors are at play, irrespective of having MS. 

Just think, we all know people who are 80 years old and put in a whole day of running errands, gardening, and cleaning, yet still have energy in the evening to grab dinner with a friend, attend a social gathering, or go for a walk. On the opposite end of the spectrum, are people in their 60s who have a hard time navigating a shopping mall without sitting down to rest a couple of times.

The great variability in terms of quality of life is the same for people with MS—some people will be able to do less as time goes by and some will be capable of much more.

The key to optimizing your MS health is to not only care for your MS-related needs but to also consider your overall health. The good news is that healthy behaviors often benefit both, like exercise and maintaining a normal weight.

An Inspiring Story of Living With MS

At the annual meeting of the European Committee for Treatment and Research in MS (ECTRIMS 2012), an account of the life of a man who lived until 97 years old with MS was presented. Although the man's name was never given, his history was outlined on a poster, along with pictures of him.

This gentleman was born in Hungary in 1910 and emigrated to France 1929. He was a resistance fighter in WWII and a prisoner of war, but he escaped in 1941.

His MS-related medical history began when he was 22 years old when he experienced double vision. Then, at age 32, he developed weakness of both arms and chest, which disappeared after three weeks. During this episode, he was misdiagnosed with mercury poisoning.

After experiencing many symptoms over the years, he was finally diagnosed with MS in 1966. In 1971 he began sporadically using a wheelchair when needed.

Although experiencing fatigue since 1965, often debilitating, he continued to work throughout his life. This man spent his career working as an architectural photographer, attending an exhibit of his own work three months before his death in 2007. He also remained sexually active in his 80s.

He died at age 97 of general weakness and respiratory failure shortly before his 97th birthday. He had lived for 75 years with MS.

The poster at the ECTRIMS meeting claimed that this man was the oldest person with MS at the time he died. Regardless of whether that can be confirmed, the story of this man is interesting and heartwarming from a human perspective. If anything, it may give you some hope that you may live a long, active, and fulfilled life with this disease.

A Word From Verywell

Living with MS is challenging on so many levels. In the end, optimizing quality of life and building resiliency is your best bet. Rest assured, too, with the emergence of newer therapies, the lifespan of people living with MS is increasing.

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