Types of multiple sclerosis

The course of multiple sclerosis is largely unpredictable.

Some people are minimally affected by the disease while in others the impact of the disease is more severe, resulting in swift progress towards disability. Although every person will experience a different combination of symptoms, there are a number of distinct patterns relating to the course of the disease.

Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis

Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis is the most common form of the disease. Approximately 80% of people who are diagnosed in Australia have relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. It is characterised by unpredictable relapses (exacerbations, attacks) during which new symptoms appear or existing symptoms become more severe.

This can last for varying periods (days, weeks or in some cases months) which is followed by partial or total remission (recovery). The time between relapses varies. For some their multiple sclerosis may be inactive for months, for others even years at a time.

Primary progressive multiple sclerosis

This form of multiple sclerosis is characterised by a lack of distinct attacks, but with slow onset and steadily worsening symptoms. There is an accumulation of deficits and disability which may level off at some point or continue over months and years.

Secondary progressive multiple sclerosis

Relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis can progress to what’s called secondary progressive multiple sclerosis over time in some cases. This means there is progressive development of disability often with superimposed relapses.

Relapsing progressive multiple sclerosis

This form of multiple sclerosis is characterised by a gradual progression of disability from the onset of the disease and is accompanied by one of more relapses.


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