What is a Multiple Sclerosis Relapse?

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  • Written By: Adrien-Luc Sanders
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 24 October 2018
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A multiple sclerosis relapse occurs when a person living with multiple sclerosis (MS) suffers symptoms that last for 24 hours or longer. While the symptoms may change over that period of time, they are characteristically persistent and often overlapping. These are caused by multiple sclerosis lesions, and may worsen existing conditions or introduce new physical and neurological problems. Relapses are also known as exacerbations or attacks.

The symptoms of multiple sclerosis are varied and can be mistaken for symptoms of other ailments. Individuals with multiple sclerosis react differently based on the effects, as MS progressively destroys the myelin sheaths encasing nerves in the brain, eyes, and nervous tissues in the spinal cord. A multiple sclerosis relapse can follow a specific pattern for one patient, while manifesting in entirely different ways for another. Regardless of the patient, relapse incidents can occur at unpredictable times, with little to no warning or previous worsening of symptoms.

Patients living with multiple sclerosis often suffer fatigue, numbness, tingling, eye pain, vision problems, pain in one or both sides of the body, problems with coordination, tissue degeneration, and a wide range of issues with muscle movement and stability. This can manifest in anything from shaking hands to twitching eye movements, dizzy spells, or double-vision. These symptoms can progress gradually over time during periods of relative good health, which occur between relapses. They can also worsen mildly or dramatically during a multiple sclerosis relapse. Symptoms that were previously absent may appear.


Such diverse reactions are caused by the location, size, and progression of multiple sclerosis lesions. These create scars on the damaged nerves. Individual nerve areas control different responses in the body. If multiple sclerosis attacks one nerve area first in one patient, but targets other nerve areas in other patients, each patient will suffer different reactions, depending on the physiological and neurological functions linked to the damaged nerves. A multiple sclerosis relapse, especially one with new symptoms, can indicate that the lesions have grown to a new area.

Multiple sclerosis has no cure, but its symptoms and progression can be treated via therapy, rehabilitation, disease-modifying treatments, and drugs, such as steroids. Individual treatments depend on the areas of the body affected by the disease, and the effects which must be mitigated. A multiple sclerosis relapse is treated in the same fashion, by responding to the symptoms present and mitigating them. Some patients also manage multiple sclerosis and attempt to prevent relapses by following a specialized diet that helps to reduce the occurrence of symptoms.



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