Skip to main content

There are three main types of MS – RRMS, SPMS and PPMS. We’ll explore these in detail on this page so you’re more informed if you’re given a diagnosis.

Some forms of MS are rarer than others, and all three differ in the extent and severity of their symptoms – not everyone who receives an MS diagnosis faces disability.

The important thing to remember is that you can live well with MS through a range of treatments and lifestyle approaches. Let us support you by calling us on 1800 042 138.

Relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS)

RRMS is the most common type of multiple sclerosis. Approximately 85% of people with MS initially are diagnosed with RRMS.

With RRMS, symptoms can come and go. A person with RRMS has periods where they experience clearly defined attacks or changes, followed by periods of complete or partial recovery.

During periods of remission, some symptoms may disappear, continue or become permanent. However, RRMS symptoms don’t build or strengthen after each attack.

Secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS)

Over time, relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis may get worse and transition to secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. With this type of MS, symptoms worsen slowly, whether there are relapses or not.

SPMS is characterised by times where:

  • it’s active (with relapses or changes to brain activity)
  • it’s non-active, and it may slowly get worse over time or stay the same.

While we know most people with RRMS will eventually experience SPMS, there’s currently no clinical test to show when RRMS changes to SPMS.

In the past, without treatment:

  • the transition from RRMS to SPMS took about 10 years
  • 90% of people with RRMS developed SPMS within 20 to 25 years after diagnosis.

Thanks to disease-modifying therapies, these figures are getting better and it’s becoming less likely that RRMS will lead to SPMS. And if it does, the transition takes longer.

Primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS)

PPMS is a type of MS that progressively worsens over time. A person with PPMS may experience brief periods when the disease is stable, where there are no relapses or changes to brain activity.

Other times, they may experience periods where the condition gets worse, whether or not there are more relapses or damage to the brain connections.

PPMS is less severe than RRMS and SPMS, as it involves less inflammation and fewer brain lesions. However, since there’s less visible damage to the brain in MRI scans, PPMS is more difficult to diagnose and treat than RRMS.

Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS)

Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) isn’t a type of MS. CIS is the term used to describe your first episode of neurological symptoms that last for at least 24 hours and aren’t caused by anything else - such as a fever or infection.

CIS can be the first sign of what may turn out to be MS, however you may never go on to experience further symptoms. If an MRI scan shows several areas of damage (lesions) to your brain or spinal cord that are similar to those seen in MS then your chances of having further episodes, and a diagnosis of MS, are higher.

Learn more about MS

Get news and updates from MS Plus

Sign up