If your doctor has told you that you have a progressive form of MS, you’re probably wondering what that means for your treatment options and your quality of life now and in the future. The starting point for answering these questions is explaining what is meant by progressive MS. Of the four disease courses that have been identified in MS, three are considered progressive: primary-progressive MS, progressive-relapsing MS, and secondary-progressive MS.
Primary-Progressive MS is characterized by steadily worsening neurologic function from the beginning. Although the rate of progression may vary over time — with occasional plateaus and temporary, minor improvements — there are no distinct relapses (also called attacks or exacerbations) or remissions.
Secondary-Progressive MS follows an initial period of relapsing-remitting MS (the most common form of MS in people who are newly-diagnosed). In SPMS, the disease begins to worsen more steadily, with or without occasional attacks, slight remissions, or plateaus.
Progressive-Relapsing MS — the least common of the four disease courses — is characterized by steadily worsening disease from the beginning, but with occasional relapses along the way. People with this form of MS may or may not experience some recovery following these attacks, but the disease continues to progress without remissions.