Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic disease of the brain and spinal cord. The symptoms of MS come and go unpredictably, which for many people can be one of the worst aspects of the disease. Not knowing when a relapse will occur or what its impact will be can be an emotional burden.
Cases of MS are most often classified into four different types: relapsing-remitting MS, secondary-progressive MS, primary-progressive MS, and progressive-relapsing MS.
The symptoms are the same for all four types of MS, and can include balance, vision, and sensory; spasticity; and fatigue. The only difference between the four types of MS is the pattern of symptoms and the severity of disability. A pattern has to be established over time.
Relapsing-Remitting MS is the most common type of MS.
Up to 80% of all initial diagnoses of MS are relapsing-remitting. In these patients, after each relapse or attack of MS, there is a remission, or a period when it looks like MS has gone away.
Normal functioning returns with few, if any, after-effects of the MS relapse.
Now that images of the brain and spinal cord can be made using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), doctors know that MS does not really go away and that new lesions in the brain can form during remissions.
Because relapsing-remitting MS causes intermittent physical problems, it is the type of the disease that may be least noticeable to others.
MS patients with relapsing-remitting MS, are the ones who may have to use a cane occasionally, but often never progress to needing a wheelchair.
Their average lifespan is typical of the population at large. Some patients with this type of MS have relapses that are years apart. On average, however, relapses usually occur about every two years or so.
During a relapse, the symptoms of MS may come on over the course of a few days and then disappear and unimpaired functioning returns.
For some patients with relapsing-remitting MS, there may be some lasting symptoms between relapses, but for the most part, the remissions are complete.
Most patients who are diagnosed with MS or have their first symptoms between the ages of 20 and 40 have relapsing-remitting MS.
Although many patients with relapsing-remitting MS never progress to the other forms of MS, some go on to develop secondary-progressive MS.