Types of MS

Understanding the four types of multiple sclerosis and how to identify their symptoms

Medically Reviewed by Ben W. Thrower, M.D.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects each person differently, and no single feature is unique to the disease. MS symptoms are varied and unpredictable, largely depending on which part of the central nervous system is affected.

To help define the different forms of MS, doctors have categorized the condition into four primary types of MS, which are named for how the disease acts in the body over time. You are most likely classified at diagnosis as having either relapsing-remitting MS, secondary-progressive MS, primary-progressive MS, or progressive-relapsing MS. 

What are the 4 different types of MS?

Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS)

The most common type of MS is called relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). It is defined by temporary periods called relapses, flare-ups, or exacerbations when symptoms appear. These attacks are followed by periods of remission when the symptoms may disappear or subside. Remissions can last anywhere from weeks to months or years. Approximately 85% of people with MS are initially diagnosed with RRMS.

Secondary-Progressive MS (SPMS)

Over time, RRMS may advance to the secondary progressive phase: secondary progressive MS (SPMS). This type of MS does not have the distinctive remissions, flare-ups, or plateaus that RRMS does, but instead is characterized by slowly worsening symptoms and neurologic function. Without treatment, approximately half of the individuals with RRMS convert to SPMS within 10 to 20 years.

Primary-Progressive MS (PPMS)

People diagnosed with primary-progressive MS (PPMS) have symptoms that steadily worsen with no periods of remission and flare-ups. Approximately 10% of people with MS are diagnosed with this form of the condition.

Progression-Relapsing MS (PRMS)

A small percentage of individuals may be diagnosed with a relatively rare type of MS known as progression-relapsing MS (PRMS). This type of MS steadily worsens from the onset of the first symptoms, regardless of relapses or periods of remission. Approximately 5% of people with MS are diagnosed with PRMS.

The Andrew C. Carlos Multiple Sclerosis Institute at Shepherd Center

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