Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis Under the Age of 40

In the United States, about 300,000 people have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). The neurological disorder can strike at any age, including in childhood, but MS is more commonly diagnosed before age 40 when symptoms start appearing.

The average age of MS onset is 34 years old—a time of life when many are just finding their groove: finishing a Master's degree, having a family, buying a home, moving up the career ladder. If that describes you, you probably have a lot on your mind.

Getting Over the Initial Fear following MS Diagnosis

After multiple doctor visits and tests, you finally know what’s causing your symptoms: MS. You feel some relief having zeroed in on a diagnosis, but you're also scared because MS is a serious condition.

Your feelings are understandable—and common. At times like these, talking to close family members and friends and reaching out to a mental health professional can help relieve some of your anxiety. Your other defense: Learning what it really means to live with MS.

Talking to peers with MS can help you understand how the disease might affect your lifestyle, and it gives you ideas and strategies for living well. Consider joining an MS support group in your community or online; you can get recommendations from your doctor’s office or organizations such as the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.

A lot of treatment and management options are available to help you live as normal a life as possible with MS. With appropriate treatment, many people diagnosed with MS continue to work, go to college, have families, take vacations and do most things people without MS do.

Two positive facts you should know right now: The majority of patients with MS can and do maintain a normal lifespan. And MS, while challenging, is not a fatal condition. That means you can still enjoy a productive and fulfilling life. Here, we answer some common questions that might be on your mind:

Will MS stop my active lifestyle?

The key to living well with MS is listening to your body: When you're feeling okay, go out and enjoy life; when symptoms flare up or fatigue sets in, take more rest breaks.

What does that mean practically? You might dance to a few less songs and enjoy the music sitting down; you might ask your spouse to drive home so you can rest; you might color and paint with your child instead of playing catch outdoors—in short, you might take life a bit easier.

Does that mean activity is out of the question? No. In fact, regular exercise is very beneficial for people with MS. With your doctor's okay, continue your workouts and activities.

Will I have to leave school and work if I have MS?

Many young adults diagnosed with MS continue to work and go to school. If MS affects you to a point where your current situation no longer works for you, you may need to make some adjustments.

When it comes to completing your education, there are options. Many colleges and universities offer classes online, which allows you greater flexibility. Now you don’t have to worry about commuting to campus or navigating crowded stairs and hallways; class begins in front of your computer. For those who want to enjoy campus life, taking some classes on campus and some online might work.

On the job, "reasonable" accommodations may be made for you, according to the law. You might request adjusted working hours, working from home, reserved parking, leave for treatment (paid or unpaid), modified workplace equipment and/or wheelchair accessibility.

Will I be able to drive and get around if I have MS?

Many young people with MS continue to drive after being diagnosed, as long as their disease isn't severe. During a relapse of MS symptoms, you may need to make temporary arrangements for transportation if vision or motor skills are affected. Carpooling, taxis, public transportation or access-a-ride services are some options. Once symptoms subside, many people may resume driving.

Can I still have a child if I have MS?

The majority of young women with MS can safely get pregnant, have an uncomplicated 9-month pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby. Talk to your doctor before you conceive to discuss your health and adjust your medication.

Once you have a child, you may need extra help with childcare and housekeeping. Recruiting a babysitter, a cleaning service, and willing friends can help you manage it all. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed.

While being diagnosed with MS has its challenges, it doesn't have to stop you from living a full and rewarding life. The silver lining may be in discovering just how much support you have from those around you.

Written by:
R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen

Sources: Michigan State University. Multiple Sclerosis. Available at: Accessed on June 20, 2011.

Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. Frequently Asked Questions About Multiple Sclerosis. Available at: Accessed on June 20, 2011.

Multiple Sclerosis Society. Putting the Pieces Together. Available at: Accessed on June 20, 2011.

Riskind, P. MD. Multiple Sclerosis: The Immune System's Terrible Mistake. Available at: Accessed on June 20, 2011.

Yanofsky, C.S. MD. Understanding Multiple Sclerosis. Available at: Accessed on June 20, 2011.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 26 Jul 2011

Last Modified: 29 Jan 2015