The Science of MS

The impact of brain atrophy

The impact of brain atrophy

You may have heard of many different terms relating to the brain in multiple sclerosis (MS). One of these is brain atrophy. Brain atrophy is the gradual loss of brain tissue. Although this happens very slowly as part of aging in everyone, it can happen a little faster if you’re living with MS. But what impact does brain atrophy have and how might it disrupt your daily life when living with MS?


    And this happens in more than just a few cases to:

    Brain Atrophy

    I have reached a point where mentally I want to lead my normal life, but physically my body does not respond. It is difficult to bear and makes me feel very helpless and angry.

    Living with MS

    Brain atrophy can also be associated with fatigue

    Brain atrophy
    Brain Atrophy

    I am isolated because of extreme fatigue. Bedridden because of fatigue. I don’t know what to do.

    Living with MS

    Brain atrophy has been associated with cognitive impairment

    Cognitive impairment includes problems with:


    Sometimes the words just don’t connect in my head! Sometimes my thoughts are totally disconnected by the end of the day.

    Living with MS

    Brain atrophy has been linked to reduced emotional wellbeing

    Like anyone, you can experience both emotional problems and problems with mental health like anxiety and depression when living with MS.

    A significant percentage of people living with MS suffer from depression, even when compared to those living with other debilitating conditions.


    Just under 1/2 of people living with relapsing-remitting MS: 

    • feel guilty or upset with how their symptoms and disabilities affect those around them
    • feel limited by their depression or anxiety
    • feel lonely or isolated because of their MS

    My challenge is my constantly changing emotions. I can laugh, cry, be angry, worry about everything.

    Living with MS

    Symptoms associated with brain atrophy can affect the relationships and daily lives of people living with MS and those around them:

    • People living with MS are more likely to be out of work when experiencing fatigue, cognitive problems or physical disabilities
    • As physical disability progresses, the proportion of people living with MS who are unemployed rises significantly
    Brian Athropy

    While brain atrophy may seem scary, it’s important to remember that brain atrophy is a normal process that happens in everyone whether you’re living with MS or not. Scientific advances also mean that current treatments can now work effectively to slow down the rate of brain atrophy and MS disease progression.

That’s why it’s so important to talk to your doctor about your brain health, to make sure you’re managing your MS in the best way possible for you.

    1. De Stefano N et al. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2015; 0: 1-7.
    2. Ferreira M. Cognitive deficits in multiple sclerosis. Arq Neuropsiquiatr 2010; 68(4): 632-641.
    3. Giovanonni G et al. Brain health: A guide for people with MS. 2016b. 
    4. Culpepper W et al. J Rehabil Res Dev 2015; 52(3): 263-272. 
    5. vs.MS global survey of people living with relapsing MS (RMS) and RMS care partners. 2015.
    6. Sutliff M. Curr Med Res Opin 2010; 26(1): 109-119.
    7. Tedeschi G et al. J Neuro Sci 2007; 263: 15-19.
    8. National Multiple Sclerosis Society – Fatigue. Available at: Last accessed: March 2021.
    9. Lerdal A et al. Eur J Neurol 2007; 14: 1338-1343.
    10. Khan F. Front Neurol 2014; 15(5): 177.
    11. Emotional and cognitive changes. Available at: Accessed: May 2017. 
    12. Mowry E et al. Neurology 2009; 72: 1760-1765.
    13. Dealing with chronic illness and depression. Available at: Accessed: March 2021.
    14. Benedict R et al. J Neurol Sci 2005; 231(1-2): 29-34.
    15. Giovanonni G et al. Brain health: Time matters in multiple sclerosis, 2016a.
    16. Maguire R and Maguire P. Cur Neurol Neurosci Rep 2020; 20(7): 18.


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