Relapses and remission

Relapses and remission

About 85% of people living with multiple sclerosis experience relapses and remissions. Here we’ll take a look at what they are, what to expect and how they can be managed. 

“During my first major relapse I was off work as a result and it made me feel angry that I couldn’t really do anything for myself.” – Hannah, Living with MS.

Quick facts: relapses vs. remission

Just in case you aren’t already familiar with the terms…

  • A relapse is a period of time when new or old symptoms appear. These can last from days to months
  • Periods of remission are the times after a relapse when symptoms subside 
What is a relapse?

A relapse is the appearance of new symptoms or the return of old ones, which then fade away – either partially or completely. 

They can be as short as 24 hours but can potentially last a couple of weeks or more. 

How do I know if I am having a relapse?

To be sure that your symptoms are an MS relapse, some of the things your doctor or MS nurse will check are that:

  • Your MS symptoms have lasted for at least 24 hours
  • You don’t have a fever or infection
  • Your MS symptoms happened at least 30 days after a previous relapse began 
  • There’s not another reason for your MS symptoms, such as a side effect from any treatments you are taking
How are MS relapses treated?

Like most aspects of MS, no two relapses are the same. Relapses vary in how serious they are and how much damage they cause to your nervous system. There are two main types of treatment:

  • Steroids  – these can help you feel better, but they don’t slow down or prevent the damage multiple sclerosis is causing in the long-term (sometimes called disease progression) 
  • Disease modifying treatments (DMTs) – DMTs work by slowing, or even preventing, damage caused by MS, slowing the progression of disability and reducing the number of MS relapses 
  • It can be a good idea to keep a note of your MS relapses and symptoms. This can help you keep track of any changes and can help you to keep your doctor or MS nurse up to date on how you’re doing. 
    -    Remember, it’s always best to talk to your doctor or MS nurse if you have any symptoms, especially if they are severe or if they’re getting worse over time
    -    It’s also important to keep note of the smaller changes as you can become used to these over time, but they can build up and have a big impact on your day-to-day life and your wellbeing
    -    Your doctor or MS nurse can also help you to know whether you have or haven’t had a relapse
What’s remission?

An MS relapse is a reflection of the damage happening in your central nervous system (CNS). If you have relapsing remitting MS (RRMS), an MS relapse will be followed by a period of recovery during which your symptoms will disappear or improve. This period of feeling better is called a remission. Even though your symptoms may have subsided, your MS can still be causing damage to your brain during periods of remission. 

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