Multiple sclerosis (MS) can be a scary diagnosis, in no small part because there is so much uncertainty about how the disease will progress. MS is characterized by “attacks,” or the presence of symptoms. These could include vision loss, double-vision, difficulty with speech, numbness, or a host of other motor-skill-related issues. The timing of the attacks, as well as the potential for symptoms to lessen over time, creates some of the uncertainty around how the disease will progress. There are four primary types of multiple sclerosis, each having to do with how often symptoms are present and whether or not they will immediately return.
Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS)
At least 85% of patients initially diagnosed with MS begin with relapsing-remitting. Relapsing-remitting is the type of MS in which the individual has partial or total recovery after the attacks. The recovery can last a short or long time (sometimes years), but symptoms will likely return. The majority of RRMS patients eventually transition into a secondary-progressive diagnosis.
Secondary-Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (SPMS)
Of the 85% of people who start with relapsing-remitting MS, at least 60% of them will develop secondary-progressive MS within ten years of diagnosis. Partial recoveries may occur, but total recoveries become less constant and the MS progresses to a more chronic state. This could mean that symptoms such as vision loss or numbness become relatively permanent conditions.
Primary-Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (PPMS)
Approximately 15% of people are initially diagnosed with PPMS. Primary-progressive MS does not progress from relapsing-remitting, instead beginning as a progressive form of the illness. This means that symptoms do not usually remit (or lessen) at any point after diagnosis and the symptom’s first appearance.
Progressive-Relapsing Multiple Sclerosis (PRMS)
PRMS is characterized by a steady decline and worsening symptoms broken up by periods of relapse. Unlike relapsing-remitting, in which acute symptomatic episodes are shorter than the periods of remittance, PRMS involves patients having acute attacks and persistent symptoms far more often than the brief periods of relapse. While this type of multiple sclerosis affects the fewest number of patients, it can be the most difficult with which to deal, as the brief periods of relapse give hope to families and caregivers, though the disease has not lessened and will return.
One of the greatest difficulties with MS is understanding the chronic nature of the disease. Understanding the different types of multiple sclerosis, as well as the ways in which it usually progresses, can help families, patients, and caregivers deal with the condition. For more information about symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment, contact your physician or a neurological specialist for the most updated news. Multiple sclerosis is a devastating disease, but it receives a high amount of research and medical attention, and new advances are constantly made.
“Types of MS.” The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/multiple-sclerosis/types.html. Accessed 7 July 2010.
“What types of multiple sclerosis are there?” http://neurology.health-cares.net/multiple-sclerosis-types.php. Accessed 7 July 2010.