The impact of brain atrophy

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?

Brain atrophy has been linked to a range of different problems in MS, including physical disability.1,2

And this happens in more than just a few caes to

Brain atrophy can also be associated with fatigue7


Brain atrophy has been associated with cognitive impairment2

Cognitive impact

Like anyone, you can experience both emotional problems and problems with mental health like anxiety and depression when living with MS.11

A significant percentage of people living with MS suffer from depression, even when compared to those living with other debilitating conditions.13

Mental health and emotional wellbeing

Just under 1/2 of people living with relapsing-remitting MS:5

  • 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

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 disabilities6,9,14
  • As physical disability progresses, the proportion of people living with MS who are unemployed rises significantly15
Work and family

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 normalise the rate of brain atrophy and MS disease progression.

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

  1. De 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: May 2022.
  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: cognition-and-emotional-changes/. Accessed: May 2022
  12. Mowry E et al. Neurology 2009; 72: 1760-1765.
  13. Dealing with chronic illness and depression. Available at: Accessed: May 2022.
  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.
MAT-XU-2201203(v1.0), May 2022