Many people with MS feel perfectly healthy, even though their MS is causing damage. Some symptoms may occur often, others more rarely. Some MS symptoms may appear soon after the onset of MS — others later.
MS progresses very differently for every person. And even when there are no symptoms, damage to the central nervous system may still be progressing. Like an iceberg, the true progression of MS can lie concealed beneath the surface. Generally, the sooner after diagnosis you begin your MS treatment, the better.
General MS Progression
After diagnosis, people with MS may experience sensory symptoms such as numbness, tingling, or vision loss. Early in MS progression, they may find that they recover completely from relapses, and have few relapses in their first years after diagnosis. It is also common early on in the disease to experience long intervals between relapses.
Later, as MS progresses, people may experience tremors as well as difficulty with coordination and walking. Relapses may become more frequent, and may be more difficult to recover from.
Changes in Mobility
Since MS causes fatigue, balance problems, and weakness, many people ultimately find it difficult to walk on their own. Most people with MS remain able to walk, however, even if they need the help of a cane or crutches. Some people with MS may need to use a scooter or wheelchair for mobility, but others may choose to use them to help conserve their energy.
MS Prognosis and Disability
MS may result in a condition called brain atrophy (brain shrinkage) — which is the loss of brain tissue.
Doctors are able to determine if disease is progressing by using a scale called the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS). The EDSS is a way of measuring physical disability. Two-thirds of people with MS do not progress past level 6, with treatment.
MS and Your Future
A 12-year study of people with MS demonstrated the number of flare-ups a person had in the first two years of their disease affected the number of years before a person would need help walking. Those with fewer flare-ups enjoyed more years of greater independence.
In fact, even one additional relapse in the first two years of MS may put a patient at risk for faster progression to an EDSS score of 6.
That's one of the reasons it's so important to take the most effective MS therapy for you as soon as possible.
This chart shows the data from the study: