For most, relapses are a part of living with MS

What is a relapse?

When you have multiple sclerosis (MS), one of the goals of your treatment plan is to prevent a rise in symptoms, known as relapses. A relapse, also referred to as an attack, flare-up, or exacerbation, is an episode of a new symptom or the worsening of an existing symptom. Most people with MS experience relapses.

A relapse is caused by inflammation within the central nervous system (CNS). This inflammation damages the nerve cells, disrupting their ability to function properly and causing the symptoms of MS. Relapses can last a few days to a few months and can be followed by a complete or partial recovery, known as remission.

Occasionally, symptoms can also be triggered by factors other than the disease itself. These factors include other illnesses, depression, exhaustion, stress, exercise, and a warm environment. While these symptoms may feel like a relapse, in order to meet the medical definition of a relapse, the symptoms have to last at least 24 hours and be separated from a previous relapse by at least 30 days. The relapse must also happen without an infection or fever.

Relapses can affect the course of your MS and how you manage it.

MS has a range of symptoms: During a relapse, people with MS often experience sensory symptoms (numbness, tingling, or burning pain) and motor symptoms (weakness, stiffness, or difficulty with walking). Visual symptoms and fatigue are also common in people with MS while experiencing a relapse.

MS is a lifelong progressive disease: There is no cure for MS but reducing the number of relapses may help slow the rate of impairment and disability.

How MS relapses may impact your life

Daily life

MS signs and symptoms, including relapses, can affect your quality of life and can cause changes to your mental and emotional state. Relapses can bring on a variety of symptoms such as extreme fatigue, changes in vision, difficulties with walking and balance, and changes in mobility. These symptoms can make it harder to work, socialize, take part in daily activities, and complete daily tasks.

Managing the financial side of MS

As MS gets worse, the toll of the disease can become greater, even impacting your finances. Preventing relapses can help slow the progression of your MS and may help reduce long-term costs. Fortunately, there is a lot of support available to you, including some financial support to help you pay for your medicine. Be sure to talk to your healthcare team about this when choosing a treatment.

Talk openly with your healthcare professional and treatment team about how MS impacts your life. Your healthcare professional may suggest lifestyle adjustments and treatments as the best way to not only reduce relapses but also limit changes on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and slow disability progression.

Next up

What is a DMT?