THE MS STORY

MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS (MS) DOESN'T LOOK THE SAME
FOR EVERYONE

When people think of MS, they commonly think of relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). But secondary progressive MS (SPMS) is a lesser known type that not many people are talking about.

Understanding My MS Starts with the Basics Understanding My MS Starts with the Basics Understanding My MS Starts with the Basics Understanding My MS Starts with the Basics

THERE ARE 3 MAIN TYPES OF MS

While there are consistent patterns within each type, the symptoms you get and the rate at which your condition may progress can vary.

The type of MS you have is usually determined by your:

  • Pattern of relapses (flare-ups or exacerbations of MS symptoms that can last a few days, weeks, or even months)

  • Rate of disability progression (accumulation of disability or functional abilities getting worse over time)

WHILE EVERYONE'S MS IS UNIQUE, THERE ARE TYPICAL PATTERNS FOR EACH TYPE

Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS)

Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS)

Primary Progressive MS (PPMS)

Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS) chart

In RRMS, periods when symptoms are more noticeable (relapses) are followed by periods of recovery (remission) when symptoms lessen or disappear.

Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS) chart

In SPMS, relapses can become less frequent or even disappear. But symptoms that are getting worse—or new symptoms—may become more apparent as disability progresses.

Primary Progressive MS (PPMS) chart

In PPMS, symptoms (and disability) worsen from diagnosis without a relapsing phase in the early stages.

Relapsing-Remitting MS
(RRMS)

Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS) chart

In RRMS, periods when symptoms are more noticeable (relapses) are followed by periods of recovery (remission) when symptoms lessen or disappear.


Secondary Progressive MS
(SPMS)

Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS) chart

In SPMS, relapses can become less frequent or even disappear. But symptoms that are getting worse—or new symptoms—may become more apparent as disability progresses.


Primary Progressive MS
(PPMS)

Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS) chart

In PPMS, symptoms (and disability) worsen from diagnosis without a relapsing phase in the early stages.

There are about 400,000 people with MS in the United States. Around half are living with RRMS, and close to 115,000 with SPMS. PPMS is a separate type of MS that only affects about 60,000 people at diagnosis.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN YOUR DOCTOR
SAYS YOUR MS IS PROGRESSING?

Disease progression in MS is used to describe a gradual transition to symptoms
that are potentially getting worse and that can last even between relapses. It may
also mean increased disability, such as difficulty walking or fatigue-related
problems. If your MS is progressing, you may start experiencing new challenges.

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RRMS IS THE MOST COMMON TYPE OF MS AT INITIAL DIAGNOSIS

Approximately 85% of people with MS have relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) at initial diagnosis. This means they experience relapses—periods of time with more noticeable symptoms followed by recovery periods called remission.

You're considered to be having a relapse if:

  • Your MS symptom or symptoms last for at least 24 hours (lasting up to days, weeks, or even months)

  • You don't have a fever, injury, infection, and you're not experiencing side effects to a medication

To be labeled a new relapse, there must be 30 days of stability (remission) in between symptoms.

Approximately 85% of people with MS have Relapsing-Remitting MS

NO TWO RELAPSES ARE THE SAME

Some relapses may produce 1 symptom, while others may produce 2 or more at the
same time. Symptoms can include impaired vision, problems with balance, extreme
fatigue, and/or other problems. Sometimes, these symptoms can be so intense that
hospitalization may be required.

When your relapse symptoms are followed by periods of partial or complete recovery, you are considered to be in remission. As your MS progresses, however, you may or may not bounce back from a relapse as well as before, or your symptoms may not go away completely. This may get in the way of doing everyday activities.

Remission is When Relapse Symptoms Are Followed by Periods of Partial or Complete Recovery

FREQUENCY OF RELAPSES MATTER

While everyone is different, studies show that more frequent relapses
early on may lead to a higher likelihood of progression down the road.

RRMS WILL LIKELY PROGRESS TO SPMS

Most people with RRMS eventually progress to secondary progressive MS (SPMS). This happens gradually over many years when the nerve fibers along which messages travel (the axons) and their protective layer (myelin) become more damaged, causing symptoms to get worse overall. This can potentially lead to more noticeable symptoms or increased disability.

The rate at which RRMS progresses to SPMS differs between those on treatment and those not on treatment.

Relapsing-Remitting MS Rate of Progression to Secondary Progressive MS with and without Treatment
Relapsing-Remitting MS Rate of Progression to Secondary Progressive MS with and without Treatment

STAY INFORMED

MS is a very complicated condition, one which is still not fully understood by
many of those who deal with it every day. Yet, new research continues to
shed light on what causes it, how to live with it, and even how to treat it.
Staying up to date with MS news can help you better understand your
condition, how to live with MS, and how it can affect you down the road.

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CARE PARTNER CORNER

RRMS. SPMS. Progression. There are so many words associated with MS—some of which you may have hoped you'd never need to know. But understanding these terms can help you have better conversations with your loved one and his or her medical team.

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Look for more care partner tips throughout this site.