Six years less than what?

I just finished reading some news accounts about an unsettling recent study that found people with multiple sclerosis lived an average of six years less than people without MS.

That’s pretty disheartening – if you allow it to be.

I distinctly remember being told when I was diagnosed that my MS would likely not shorten my life. So, when I first got wind of this new research, my heart caught in my throat. What had changed?

This study, conducted by scientists at Boston University and three other institutions and published in late December in the journal MS and Related Disorders, looked at records for nearly 120,000 people in the U.S. who were enrolled in a certain health insurance plan between 1996 and 2009. Looking at government records, the researchers found that folks with MS had an average life expectancy of about six years less than that of folks without MS.

The study did not break things down according to disease severity. Nor did it account for the potential effects of disease-modifying therapies, which only came into use with the introduction of Betaseron in 1993, or for people’s general health or lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise.

So, in the end, while the findings are intriguing – and scary – they don’t likely mean that having MS actually shaves six years off of each of our lives.

Even if that were to turn out to be precisely the case, though, the findings have very little meaning to me. Why? Because none of us has any idea how long we will end up living. The truth is that we have no way of knowing whether we have days, months, years, or mere seconds left. So the real question is “six years less than what?”

For my own mental health, I’m placing this study, however well conceived and conducted it may be, in the large and growing pile of things I intend not to let worry me. After all, life is too short as it is.
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Jennifer LaRue Huget, Blogger

Jennifer LaRue Huget was diagnosed with MS in 2001. A freelance writer and children's book author, she lives in Connecticut with her husband, two teenage kids, and two brown dogs. Her website is