The role of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in predicting disability in multiple sclerosis (MS) remains unclear. In this study 21 patients with primary and secondary progressive MS were reviewed 5 years following a serial MRI study of 6 months duration. In the secondary progressive group (n = 11) there was a significant relationship between the occurrence of enhancing lesions and clinical relapses during the initial 6 months and increase in disability 5 years later. For both groups change in disability over the initial study period was predictive of outcome. These results suggest that the presence and frequency of gadolinium enhancement (a marker of inflammation) and changes in disability over a short period are predictive of future deterioration in progressive patients.