Understanding the Different Types of Multiple Sclerosis

Jul 04, 2023
Understanding the Different Types of Multiple Sclerosis
Identifying which type of multiple sclerosis you’re experiencing is the first step in overcoming its many challenges as you learn to manage your symptoms. Read more from a neurologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating MS.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a complex neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system, specifically the brain and spinal cord.

Caused by the body's immune system mistakenly attacking the protective covering of nerve fibers (myelin sheath), MS can lead to neurological symptoms that manifest and progress differently for each individual.

Dr. Yashma Patel at Valley Neurology in Spokane Valley, Washington, focuses her extensive medical expertise on diagnosing and treating multiple sclerosis. She offers the most advanced therapies for slowing its progression as she helps you manage the challenges of living with MS. 

Dr. Patel is happy to provide basic information about the types of multiple sclerosis and their unique characteristics.

What are the symptoms of multiple sclerosis?

The symptoms of multiple sclerosis can vary widely from person to person, depending on the location and extent of damage to the affected nerves.

Common symptoms include:

  • Unexplained fatigue and prolonged exhaustion not relieved by rest
  • Numbness and tingling in the face, arms, legs, or trunk
  • Difficulty with coordination and weakness in the limbs
  • Balance problems
  • Muscle stiffness or spasms
  • Difficulty controlling movements
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Pain with eye movement
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty with memory, attention, concentration, and overall cognitive function
  • Mood swings, depression, anxiety, and irritability
  • Chronic muscle and joint pain
  • Slurred speech or difficulty articulating words properly
  • Worsening symptoms with increases in body temperature

The symptoms of MS are similar no matter which type you have but can vary in intensity and frequency.

Multiple sclerosis types

There are four basic types of MS:

Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS)

RRMS is the most common type of MS, accounting for approximately 85% of all cases. People with RRMS experience periods of relapses or flare-ups, during which new symptoms appear or existing ones worsen.

These relapses are followed by periods of remission, during which the person may wholly or partially recover from the symptoms. 

The disease progression with RRMS can vary widely, with some individuals experiencing stable remission periods and others seeing gradual disability accumulation over time.

Primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS)

PPMS affects approximately 10%-15% of individuals with MS. Unlike RRMS, PPMS is characterized by a gradual and steady worsening of neurological function from the onset, without distinct relapses or remissions.

People with PPMS may experience occasional plateaus or temporary minor improvements, but the disease tends to progress steadily overall. This type of MS often presents challenges in management. 

Secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS)

SPMS typically follows a period of RRMS. After several years, individuals with RRMS may transition into SPMS, in which symptoms progressively worsen with or without occasional relapses.

With SPMS, the disease may progress even without distinct relapses, leading to a gradual accumulation of disability over time. However, not all individuals with RRMS progress to SPMS.

Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS)

CIS refers to a single episode of neurological symptoms lasting at least 24 hours, caused by inflammation or demyelination in the central nervous system.

CIS may be the initial presentation of MS. However, a CIS episode doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop full-blown MS. Sometimes, the symptoms resolve without further episodes. However, CIS may also progress to clinically definite MS over time.

Fortunately, treatments continue to improve as our understanding of MS progresses. Schedule an evaluation with Dr. Patel at Valley Neurology today for more information about MS and how we can help. Call the office or request a visit online.