Secondary progressive MS
Secondary progressive MS (SPMS) is a stage of MS which comes after relapsing remitting MS for many people. With this type of MS your disability gets steadily worse. You're no longer likely to have relapses, when your symptoms get worse but then get better.
In the past, before disease modifying therapies (DMTs) came along, it took around 20 years for relapsing MS to change into secondary progressive MS. But thanks to today's MS drugs this is changing:
- fewer people are likely to go on to secondary progressive MS
- for people who do, it could take longer to happen
How is secondary progressive MS diagnosed?
Secondary progressive MS can be hard to diagnose. To get this diagnosis you must have had relapses in the past, and now your disability has been getting steadily worse for at least six months. Things getting worse mustn't be linked to any relapse you've had.
It's possible that, when you're first diagnosed with MS, you could be told you have secondary progressive MS. This is rare but can happen if symptoms of the relapsing phase of your MS weren't diagnosed correctly or were ignored.
Secondary progressive MS is different from primary progressive MS, which is progressive from the beginning.
What sort of changes happen when you move from relapsing to secondary progressive MS?
Usually with secondary progressive MS your disability or other symptoms gradually get worse. The old pattern of you getting relapses followed by you getting better usually comes to an end. Some people may still get relapses but they don't tend to make a full recovery afterwards.
You might notice more difficulties with getting around than before, or other symptoms might get worse. Changes can happen very slowly though. It might take some time before you and your doctor are sure you have secondary progressive MS.
Everyone's MS is different - even if someone else has secondary progressive MS, they're likely to be affected in an individual way.
Can you still get relapses with secondary progressive MS?
Some people still get the occasional relapse when their MS becomes secondary progressive. That can make it harder to work out whether your MS is relapsing or secondary progressive.
If you do have relapses, this means you have active secondary progressive MS. 'Active' here means your immune system is still attacking the myelin around your nerves, causing inflammation. A relapse is a sign of this inflammation. Another sign of it is when your neurologist can see new lesions on your MRI scans.
Recovery from a relapse can take some time. It can be hard to tell whether symptoms are due to your MS progressing (getting steadily worse). If they are, these symptoms might not go away. But if your symptoms are the lingering effect of a relapse, they might go with time.
Managing secondary progressive MS
If you have secondary progressive MS with relapses, they can be treated with steroids.
Disease modifying therapies
If you think they could help you, ask your neurologist, MS nurse or GP for more details.
HSCT, also known as stem cell therapy might be able to help some people with progressive MS who still have active inflammation (either relapses or lesions on an MRI).
But it can’t regrow nerves or repair damaged myelin. So it can’t help people with advanced progressive MS who don't have relapses or show signs of inflammation on an MRI.
What support can I get?
We also have a progressive MS booklet you can download.
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