How patients with multiple sclerosis acquire disability

Fred D. Lublin, Dieter A. Häring, Habib Ganjgahi, Alex Ocampo, Farhad Hatami, Jelena Čuklina, Piet Aarden, Frank Dahlke, Douglas L. Arnold, Heinz Wiendl, Tanuja Chitnis, Thomas E. Nichols, Bernd C. Kieseier, Robert A. Bermel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Patients with multiple sclerosis acquire disability either through relapse-associated worsening (RAW) or progression independent of relapse activity (PIRA). This study addresses the relative contribution of relapses to disability worsening over the course of the disease, how early progression begins and the extent to which multiple sclerosis therapies delay disability accumulation. Using the Novartis-Oxford multiple sclerosis (NO.MS) data pool spanning all multiple sclerosis phenotypes and paediatric multiple sclerosis, we evaluated ∼200 000 Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) transitions from >27 000 patients with ≤15 years follow-up. We analysed three datasets: (i) A full analysis dataset containing all observational and randomized controlled clinical trials in which disability and relapses were assessed (n = 27 328); (ii) all phase 3 clinical trials (n = 8346); and (iii) all placebo-controlled phase 3 clinical trials (n = 4970). We determined the relative importance of RAW and PIRA, investigated the role of relapses on all-cause disability worsening using Andersen-Gill models and observed the impact of the mechanism of worsening and disease-modifying therapies on the time to reach milestone disability levels using time continuous Markov models. PIRA started early in the disease process, occurred in all phenotypes and became the principal driver of disability accumulation in the progressive phase of the disease. Relapses significantly increased the hazard of all-cause disability worsening events; following a year in which relapses occurred (versus a year without relapses), the hazard increased by 31-48% (all P < 0.001). Pre-existing disability and older age were the principal risk factors for incomplete relapse recovery. For placebo-treated patients with minimal disability (EDSS 1), it took 8.95 years until increased limitation in walking ability (EDSS 4) and 18.48 years to require walking assistance (EDSS 6). Treating patients with disease-modifying therapies delayed these times significantly by 3.51 years (95% confidence limit: 3.19, 3.96) and 3.09 years (2.60, 3.72), respectively. In patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, those who worsened exclusively due to RAW events took a similar length of time to reach milestone EDSS values compared with those with PIRA events; the fastest transitions were observed in patients with PIRA and superimposed relapses. Our data confirm that relapses contribute to the accumulation of disability, primarily early in multiple sclerosis. PIRA begins in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis and becomes the dominant driver of disability accumulation as the disease evolves. Pre-existing disability and older age are the principal risk factors for further disability accumulation. The use of disease-modifying therapies delays disability accrual by years, with the potential to gain time being highest in the earliest stages of multiple sclerosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3147-3161
Number of pages15
Issue number9
StatePublished - 14 Sep 2022


  • disability
  • disease progression
  • multiple sclerosis
  • progression independent of relapse activity
  • relapse


Dive into the research topics of 'How patients with multiple sclerosis acquire disability'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this