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MS and Life Expectancy

By Matt Cavallo

When I was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I had one burning question: Is my diagnosis going to affect my life expectancy? The reason behind this question stemmed from my Aunt Loretta who had MS and she died because of disease-related complications at the tender age of only 43 years old. Because my aunt was my only frame of reference for MS and we were both diagnosed in our late twenties, I was afraid that my fate was to die young, as well. 

This was also a quiet concern for my family members who watched Loretta progress quickly and pass peacefully leaving behind three teenage boys. Those family memories and discussions made me leery of starting a family of my own, not knowing if I was going to be around to see children of my own grow up. At the time of my diagnosis, my wife and I had only been married for three years and I didn’t think it was fair that our hopes and dreams for the future might be over.

In order to accept my diagnosis and focus on my recovery and rehabilitation, I needed to answer the question: Does MS affect life expectancy? So, I started to research the subject.

The short answer is yes, MS does affect your life expectancy, but it isn’t as bad as you think. Recent research indicates that people with MS may live an average of about seven years less than the general population because of disease complications or other medical conditions. On average seven years shorter is a lot better than I thought my odds were based on what we witnessed with my aunt. 

There is more good news. Many of these complications or other medical conditions are either manageable or preventable. What does that mean? You may not be able to control the fact that you have MS, but you can control other health factors that may contribute to your life expectancy with MS. 

Diet and exercise decisions are within your control. Quitting smoking is within your control. Taking your MS treatment as prescribed is within your control. These are all factors that can help you enjoy a longer than expected life despite living with MS. 

While Loretta’s life was cut short, I understand that in the seventies my aunt did not have the treatment options available that I do today. I am about the same age today that my aunt was when she passed away from complications due to progressive MS. I know now that my fate does not have to be the same as Loretta’s. 

Because of my MS, I live with a sense of urgency to cherish each day. I am trying to cross things off of my bucket list and live life to the fullest. I am making healthy decisions and following the orders of my neurologist because the expectation of my life is that I’ll make it an old age and accomplish everything I want to despite living with MS.