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Relapsing Remitting MS (RRMS) is the most common form of multiple sclerosis (MS), with around 85% of people living with MS diagnosed in this phase of the disease. People who have RRMS experience varying symptoms, going between relapses, the sudden appearance of a new symptom, the reappearance or increase in severity of an existing symptom, and periods of
remission (a period with little to no symptoms).

It is important to note that no two people experience MS in the same way. However, there are similarities in patterns of relapses and remissions:

Before: Recognising a relapse

It can sometimes be difficult to work out whether you are having a relapse or if it is a cluster of symptoms. Any MS symptom can be indicative of a relapse, but the most common ones include:

  • Fatigue
  • Issues with balance, mobility, eyesight and bladder control
  • Areas of numbness, pins and needles or pain
  • As well as cognitive problems, such as memory loss and difficulty with concentration.

Some relapses can be formed of only one symptom, whereas others are made up of multiple symptoms at the same time, and can last anywhere between 24 hours to several weeks.

If you think you are experiencing a relapse, report it to your healthcare team as soon as possible so that they can find a management plan that best suits you. Limited recovery from relapses may result in progression, therefore it's extremely important to report each one to your healthcare team and monitor your symptoms.

Your healthcare team may ask you some questions to better understand your relapses, such as:

  • When did your symptoms start to change and what has been the pattern of this change?
  • What symptoms are you experiencing?
  • Which part of your body is affected, for example, if you have numbness, where is this?
  • Have the symptoms stopped you from doing anything that you normally do, such as driving, getting up and down stairs, working, etc.?
  • Have you been ill lately or had any symptoms of infection, for example, unexplained shivering?
  • What medication are you taking and has your medication or dose changed recently?

For more help preparing for appointments with your healthcare team, click here.

During: Treating a relapse

Not all relapses require treatment – it depends on the symptoms, although it's a good idea to discuss this with your healthcare team. Milder symptoms like numbness and tingling may get better on their own. The conversations you have with your healthcare team at the start of a relapse will help guide the best management plan for you.

Treatment and management of relapses vary significantly depending on symptoms and can include medicine, hospitalisation, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, neuropsychology or speech and language therapy.

After: Recovery

If you have experienced a relapse, it's important to remember that the symptoms you are experiencing will usually settle down. It is likely that you will feel tired and unwell while recovering, but rehabilitation can be especially useful soon after a relapse to help you get back on track. The relapse may have had an effect on one or more of the following areas of your life:

  • Home life: Doing daily chores, such as cleaning or walking, can become difficult. It is important to be patient and kind to yourself and keep within your limits. Ask for help from family and loved ones. If recovery at home is taking longer than usual, reach out to your healthcare team who can help in finding a carer or MS nurse to support you.
  • Work life: You may find it helpful to reduce your work hours or take some time off. Adjusting your work schedule can help with both your physical and cognitive symptoms. Speak to your manager or HR representative to secure the necessary time off that you need to aid your recovery.
  • Cognitive function: After a relapse, every aspect of your body is in recovery. Be patient with yourself if you find yourself experiencing altered emotions, sleeping patterns and memory/problem-solving issues. If you think you are experiencing any of these symptoms, reach out to your healthcare team for support.

There are many different forms of care and support available to help manage and treat a relapse. The best advice is to speak to your healthcare team as soon as you think you might be experiencing a relapse, so that they can tailor the most suitable management plan to meet your needs. To find out about the science behind the relapses, click here.

UK | January 2022 | 157027