Background: It is unclear if all patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) ultimately develop progressive MS. Onset of progressive disease course seems to be age- rather than disease duration-dependent. Some forms of progressive MS (e.g. primary progressive MS (PPMS)) are uncommon in population-based studies. Ascertainment of patients with PPMS from clinic-based populations can facilitate a powerful comparison of age at progression onset between secondary progressive MS (SPMS) and PPMS but may introduce unclear biases.
Objective: Our aim is to confirm that onset of progressive disease course is more relevant to the patient's age than the presence or duration of a pre-progression relapsing disease course in MS.
Methods: We studied a population-based MS cohort (n=210, RRMS n=109, progressive MS n=101) and a clinic-based progressive MS cohort (n=754). Progressive course was classified as primary (PPMS; n=322), single attack (SAPMS; n=112) and secondary progressive (SPMS; n=421). We studied demographics (chi(2) or t-test), age-of-progression-onset (t-test) and time to Expanded Disability Status Scale of 6 (EDSS6) (Kaplan-Meier analyses).
Results: Sex ratio (p=0.58), age at progression onset (p=0.37) and time to EDSS6 (p=0.16) did not differ between the cohorts. Progression had developed before age 75 in 99% of patients with known progressive disease course; 38% with RRMS did not develop progression by age 75. Age at progression onset did not differ between SPMS (44.9±9.6), SAPMS (45.5±9.6) and PPMS (45.7±10.8). In either cohort, only 2% of patients had reached EDSS6 before onset of progression.
Conclusions: Patients with RRMS do not inevitably develop a progressive disease course. Onset of progression is more dependent on age than the presence or duration of a pre-progression symptomatic disease course. Moderate disability is sustained predominantly after the onset of a progressive disease course in MS.