An MS relapse (also called an “attack” or “exacerbation”) is a period when old symptoms suddenly become worse or when new ones appear. To be considered a relapse, symptoms must last at least 24 hours and occur at least 30 days after the last relapse. Also, there must be no other explanation for the symptoms.
Symptoms of a relapse can be any symptoms of MS. Symptoms vary from person to person and can vary in an individual over time. Fatigue, muscle tightness or weakness, numbness or tingling, pain, poor coordination or balance, changes in vision, changes in speech or difficulty chewing or swallowing, problems with memory or thinking, and difficulty walking are all common symptoms of an MS relapse.
Whether to treat a relapse depends largely on the impact of symptoms on activities of daily living. Treating MS relapses can speed recovery time. MRIs can help to evaluate an MS relapse and to show increased disease activity. MRIs can detect disease activity, even when you are not noticing symptoms. MS relapse therapy should begin as quickly as possible to resolve symptoms.
The duration of MS relapses varies from person to person and for each relapse. Relapses can last days, weeks, or even months. And it is difficult to predict how quickly you will recover.
Becoming relapse-ready means preparing for a relapse before it begins. Make a plan for treatment, and discover ways you can ask for extra help and cope in your personal and professional life, before you start having new or recurring symptoms. Planning ahead can lessen the feeling of being overwhelmed by a relapse and help you get back to normal faster.
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Relapses may be followed by full or partial recovery. It is important to have a follow-up evaluation to see how you’ve recovered from the relapse and also assess how well the MS relapse treatment worked for it. This will also provide useful information for making treatment decisions for future relapses.
Continue to take your disease-modifying treatment as directed. Disease-modifying treatments are different from relapse treatments. Disease-modifying treatments are taken over the long term. They slow the course of MS and prevent relapses. If a relapse happens, it doesn’t mean that your disease-modifying treatment is not working.