There are four recognised types of MS, each with slightly differing characteristics.
Someone with a small number of relapses followed by a complete recovery may be described as having benign MS. It is only possible to make a diagnosis of benign MS once someone has experienced little or no disability for a period of 10 to 15 years. However, a relapse may occasionally occur after many years in which the MS has been inactive.
The most commonly diagnosed form of MS, relapsing remitting MS is when relapses (a flare-up of symptoms) are followed by remissions (periods of recovery). Relapses are unpredictable. They can last for days, weeks or months and vary from mild to severe. During a relapse there will either be new symptoms, or a recurrence or worsening of previous symptoms. Any changed or new symptoms must last for at least 24 hours to be described as a relapse. During remission, symptoms can disappear completely, although sometimes people make only a partial recovery.
Primary progressive MS affects about 10 to 15 per cent of people diagnosed with MS. It has this name because from the first (primary) symptoms it is progressive. Symptoms gradually get worse over time, rather than appearing as sudden attacks (relapses) followed by periods of recovery (remissions). In primary progressive MS, early symptoms are often subtle problems with walking, which develop – often slowly – over time.
Most people who have relapsing remitting MS eventually develop secondary progressive MS. This type of MS is identified when someone’s condition becomes steadily worse and their disability progresses for a period of six months or more, whether or not they continue to have relapses.
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