If you’ve been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, you have likely wondered how the condition affects your life expectancy. MS itself is not fatal, but it can lead to other health problems and complications that can be, such as pneumonia, infections, and falls.
However, there is good news: According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, life expectancy for people with MS has increased over time. Furthermore, results of a recently published study offer more insight into the association between MS and risk of mortality.
Some MyMSTeam members have shared their concerns about life expectancy. One member wrote, “Every time I fall or have a symptom, I now wonder how long I’ll live with this.”
Another member posted, “I used to say I will live to be 100. Now I say I hope I’ll live to be 100. Less positive, but so far, so good.”
Another member shared, “I was told a long time ago that MS isn’t a death sentence, but a life sentence. It’s important to keep moving and stay around positive people who lift your spirits.”
A new cohort study examined mortality in a representative sample of 23,053 U.S. adults aged 45 to 79 years. The participants had responded to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) in 2002 and 2008 and reported if a physician had diagnosed them with MS. The researchers then analyzed the participants’ death records from the survey date through Dec. 31, 2015.
All told, 120 of the survey participants reported being diagnosed with MS. The researchers found that people with the condition had an 80 percent increased risk of mortality during the study period compared with those who did not have MS.
Researchers also found that the average age of death for people with MS was around 64.3 to 66.1. For those without the condition, the average age was around 67.6. Participants with MS were more likely to have chronic respiratory disease (conditions affecting the airways and lungs), as well as lower physical-activity levels and body mass index (BMI).
Other factors can raise the risk of death, so researchers also tracked demographic and socioeconomic variables, lifestyle factors, comorbidities (other health conditions) — such as diabetes, heart disease, and chronic respiratory disease — and cancer status. They found that even after adjusting for these factors, the increased risk of mortality associated with MS was significant.
Further studies are needed about life expectancy and MS, but these results are notable because they come from a large, representative sample of the NHIS, according to the study authors. These results provide more information for people living with MS, confirming earlier reports that the increased risk of mortality is due not only to MS but also related to other health conditions.
The link between MS and life expectancy is not fully understood. Past research has shown that people with MS tend to have shorter life spans than the general population. However, the exact difference in average length of life isn’t clear, nor are the reasons for these differences.
One study of more than 30,000 people with MS in the United States found that they live six fewer years, on average, than people who don’t have MS. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates that the average life expectancy of people with MS is about seven years less than that of the general population.
Prior to the latest cohort study, researchers reported that the increased risk of mortality is due not to the neurological disease itself but, rather, to complications or other medical conditions. A 2020 study in the United Kingdom and a 2015 study in Canada found that MS is associated with a higher risk of mortality from all causes.
However, these studies did not take into account whether participants were treating their MS with disease-modifying therapies, which are approved to slow disease progression. More studies spanning larger populations and accounting for MS treatment are needed to determine how MS affects risk factors for life expectancy.
Making lifestyle changes can help stem the progression of MS and extend life span, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. These include:
Taking steps like these can help keep cholesterol and blood pressure levels in check, helping to manage or prevent comorbid conditions, and may lead to healthier, longer lives for people with MS.
MyMSTeam is the social network for people with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 188,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with MS.
Do you have questions about how MS will affect your life expectancy? Have you taken steps to lower your risk of other diseases? Share your story in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on the Activities page.