MS Relapse Symptoms : Rethink Multiple Sclerosis Relapses

What Is a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Relapse?

Simply put, relapses, also known as flare ups, or (MS) attacks are new or worsening MS symptoms. But there is a concrete definition used by healthcare providers to identify MS attacks.


To be considered an MS relapse: 

      • Old symptoms of MS must have become worse or new symptoms appeared. Sometimes new symptoms can appear or old symptoms can get worse gradually or suddenly. And not everyone has the same symptoms. They tend to be different for every person. Also keep in mind that most people with MS continue to experience some symptoms, even when they are in remission—when symptoms have been stable. Being in remission does not mean symptom free. It’s only when symptoms change that you may be having a relapse.

    • Uncover what it means to have an “MS relapse,” and explore how to identify one sooner.

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      Having a healthcare team you trust will help you manage MS, and it will help you get prepared for a relapse should one happen.

      Relapses are unexpected and they can interrupt your life, which is why many people feel anxious about them. No one wants to think about relapses when they feel well. But it is important to learn about relapses and know when to contact your healthcare team. Being relapse-ready can help you feel less stressed and nervous about relapses, and more in control of your MS. It can also help you get treated for relapses more quickly, when needed.

      Now, figuring out if you’re having an MS relapse can be tricky, whether you’ve just been diagnosed with MS or whether you’ve had it for years. A relapse is any new MS symptom—something you haven’t experienced before. Or it can be an old MS symptom that has gotten worse. To be considered a true relapse, changes in symptoms must last at least 24 hours. In addition, they should be accompanied by a measurable “finding,” for example, vision loss. And there should not be any other reason why you might be experiencing these symptoms, such as a fever.

      With that definition in mind, be sure to track your symptoms if you think you might be having a relapse. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about them.

      Remember, we don’t know what’s going on if no one tells us. So keep track of your symptoms so that you can notice any changes and tell your healthcare provider. More often than not, these symptoms can be resolved. That’s why I ask my patients to tell me if they are having any new or worsening MS symptoms, especially if their symptoms are affecting their daily life.

      You know, I find that some of my patients try to be tough. There’s really no need to suffer through symptoms if they’re bothering you. Listen to your body. And talk to your healthcare provider. We’re here to help you.

  • Symptoms must last at least 24 hours. If your symptoms have lasted for less than 24 hours, you may have had a pseudo-relapse, or another condition commonly mistaken for a relapse. Relapse symptoms can last days, weeks, or even months.

  • Symptoms must occur at least 30 days after the last relapse. MS symptoms had to have been stable for about 1 month before symptoms became worse or new symptoms appeared.

  • There must be no other explanation for the symptoms. Some other conditions, like the flu, can be mistaken for an MS relapse. In a true relapse, symptoms are not connected with any other cause and do not get better when that cause is identified and treated.


Some MS relapses are obvious—especially when symptoms have more of an impact on your life. Other times, relapses may not be as clear. For example, if you suddenly have trouble seeing, you may realize that you’re having a relapse right away. If you are feeling more tired than usual, it may be harder to know if this is a relapse.


When in doubt, ask your healthcare provider. This is especially true if your symptoms get worse and stay worse for more than 24 hours. Your healthcare provider will help you determine if your symptoms are in fact a relapse and caused by active disease—or if they are caused by scar tissue that formed during an earlier period of active disease. Your healthcare provider will also make sure that your symptoms are not caused by another condition, which may have been mistaken for a relapse.

relapse
A period when old symptoms get worse or new symptoms appear.
remission
A lessening in severity or short-term disappearance of symptoms during the course of a disease. These symptoms must last for at least 24 hours to be considered associated with a relapse.
pseudo-relapse
Temporary symptoms triggered by heat, infection, or another reason. These can be mistaken for a relapse.