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Study Shows Life Expectancy for People with MS Increasing Over Time, But Still Lower Than the General Population – Treating other medical conditions may increase lifespan

May 27, 2015

A study has confirmed previous findings that life expectancy for people with MS has increased over time. However, the investigators also reported that people with MS lived on average seven years less than the general population. The reasons for this difference are not clear. They also found that people with MS along with other medical conditions (“comorbidities”) were more likely to die younger, compared to people with MS alone. The investigators, led by Ruth Ann Marrie, MD, PhD (University of Manitoba), suggest that addressing comorbidities experienced by people with MS may increase life expectancy. The study, published in the May 27, 2015 online issue of Neurology, was funded in part by the MS Society of Canada.

Background: Multiple sclerosis has generally not been considered a fatal disease, even in light of some population studies that have suggested that the average lifespan of people with MS tends to be lower than the general population. Dr. Marrie’s team set out to evaluate the impacts of disease-related complications and comorbidities on life expectancy in people with MS.

This Study: The team based its study on a review of health system data (including medical claims, hospitalizations and other information) for 28,807 people, plus 5,797 people diagnosed with MS, living in the Canadian Province of Manitoba. They were able to match up people with MS and those without MS by age and gender, and were also able to map all medical conditions experienced by this population.

The researchers found that over the past 25 years, life expectancy for people with MS has increased. However, they also found that the median age of survival of people with MS was 76 years, versus 83 years for the matched population. (A median is the midpoint within a range of numbers. This means that in each group, half of the people died older than the median age, and half of the people died younger than the median age.) Of those people with MS who had died, 44 percent were listed as having died from MS and complications of the disease, a rate lower than what has been reported in some previous studies.

The team also evaluated the impacts of various medical conditions on lifespan in both populations. On the whole, having diabetes, coronary (heart) artery disease, depression, lung disease and other conditions increased the risk of death in the combined populations. Compared to the matched population, people with MS were more likely to die of infectious diseases and lung diseases. The researchers also found that people with MS and comorbidities were more likely to die younger, compared to people with MS alone.

This study did not account for potential impacts of MS disease severity or whether or not individuals were taking MS disease-modifying therapies. Some research has suggested that the risk of death may be lower in people who take disease modifying therapies, but this needs further study and verification.

Comments: Although it is not possible to predict any individual’s life expectancy from this study, the results highlight how important it is for people with MS to get treatment for other medical conditions they may have, and to embrace healthful lifestyles.

“Research suggests that exercise may reduce MS symptoms and improve overall health, and that smoking and possibly obesity may contribute to worsening MS,” commented Bruce Bebo, PhD, National MS Society Executive Vice President, Research. “Getting treatment for MS and other medical conditions as well as focusing on a healthy lifestyle can improve quality of life, and could possibly increase longevity as well,” he added.

Determining the wellness strategies that have the greatest impact for people living with MS is one of our highest priorities. People want to know what they can do today – particularly related to diet, exercise and emotional wellness – to feel and function at their best. At a recent meeting convened by the National MS Society, people with MS, healthcare professionals, researchers and Society staff summarized what is currently known about diet, exercise and emotional issues in MS; identified key questions to be answered in each of these areas, along with the research gaps and challenges to be addressed in order to arrive at the answers; made specific programmatic recommendations to ensure that people living with MS are getting the personalized support and information they need to achieve wellness; and outlined next steps to move this important priority forward.  Read more

• See how a healthy diet, regular exercise, stress management and other wellness strategies can help you manage your symptoms and feel your best.
Read more about an initiative to understand the impacts of comorbidities on people with MS.
• The National MS Society is here to help you navigate the challenges of MS with personalized response to your unique needs, up-to-date information, referrals and other practical resources. Contact us to connect with an MS Navigator:
Phone: 1-800-344-4867 (Contact us during standard business hours, Monday through Friday)
Read about other ways to find support for coping with MS and connecting with others
• Find resources and support for living with advanced MS

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system. Currently there is no cure. Symptoms vary from person to person and may include disabling fatigue, mobility challenges, cognitive changes, and vision issues. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to minimize disability. Significant progress is being made to achieve a world free of MS.

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The National MS Society, founded in 1946, is the global leader of a growing movement dedicated to creating a world free of MS. The Society funds cutting-edge research for a cure, drives change through advocacy and provides programs and services to help people affected by MS live their best lives. Connect to learn more and get involved:, Facebook, X, formerly known as Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or 1-800-344-4867.


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