While the major phenotypes of multiple sclerosis (MS) and relapsing–remitting, primary and secondary progressive MS have been well characterized, a subgroup of patients with an active, aggressive disease course and rapid disability accumulation remains difficult to define and there is no consensus about their management and treatment. The current lack of an accepted definition and treatment guidelines for aggressive MS triggered a 2018 focused workshop of the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS) on aggressive MS. The aim of the workshop was to discuss approaches on how to describe and define the disease phenotype and its treatments. Unfortunately, it was not possible to come to consensus on a definition because of unavailable data correlating severe disease with imaging and molecular biomarkers. However, the workshop highlighted the need for future research needed to define this disease subtype while also focusing on its treatment and management. Here, we review previous attempts to define aggressive MS and present characteristics that might, with additional research, eventually help characterize it. A companion paper summarizes data regarding treatment and management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1031-1044
Number of pages14
JournalMultiple Sclerosis Journal
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2020


  • Aggressive
  • disability
  • highly active
  • multiple sclerosis
  • observational studies
  • relapsing/remitting


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