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Relapsing Remitting MS explained

As the name suggests, people living with RRMS, often experience patterns of new or worsening of old symptoms, often lasting more than 24 hours. Around 85% of people with multiple sclerosis are diagnosed with RRMS1.

While MS progression is different for each person and influenced by multiple factors, studies have shown that between 24% and 40% of people will progress from RRMS to SPMS within 10 years from their initial diagnosis2,3,4. Therefore, managing RRMS appropriately can help reduce relapses and slow the progression to SPMS in the future5.

RRMS Progression Table

In RRMS, periods when symptoms are more noticeable (relapses) are followed by periods of recovery (remission) when symptoms lessen or disappear.


What is a relapse? 

A relapse is often defined in two ways: the appearance of a new symptom(s) or the return of old symptoms for a period of 24 hours or more6. These are also referred to as an ‘attack’, a ‘flare up’ or an ‘episode’.

Both the frequency and severity of relapses are variable, unpredictable and unique to the individual. Some relapses may have little impact on the day-to-day routine and symptoms may improve within a few weeks.

What causes relapses and is there any way to prevent them?

It is very difficult to outline what causes relapses; many people usually identify things that trigger a relapse for them. However, always remember that what appears to affect one person does not always apply to others.

There are a number of ways to reduce the risk of a relapse. These include ensuring that you have a well-balanced diet and keep active to reduce the risk of stress or infections, which are also known to cause a relapse6.

What happens after a relapse? Will I recover completely?

A relapse is usually followed by a recovery period.  Symptoms may improve quickly, or they may take up to three months or longer, after the onset of the relapse. Recovery can vary: some symptoms may disappear, while others may become permanent.

It is always important to speak to your MS specialist, neurologist or MS nurse about a relapse. They will want to know when the symptoms started, what has changed, and the impact of the symptoms on you and your life6.

What treatments are available for managing relapses?

There are a range of treatments available. It is important to speak with your neurologist or MS nurse to find a management plan that best suits you.


  1. MS Trust. Relapsing remitting MS. Available at: Accessed April 2020.
  2. Tremlett H, Yinshan Z, Devonshire V. Natural history of secondary-progressive multiple sclerosis. Mult Scler. 2008; 14: 314-324
  3. Scalfari A, Neuhaus A, Daumer M, Muraro PA, Ebers GC. Onset of secondary progressive phase and long-term evolution of multiple sclerosis. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2014; 85: 67-75.
  4. Rovaris M, Confavreux C, Furlan R, Kappos L, Comi G, Filippi M. Secondary progressive multiple sclerosis: current knowledge and future challenges. Lancet Neurol. 2006; 5: 343-354.
  5. MS Society. Relapsing remitting MS. Available at: Accessed April 2020
  6. MS Trust. Managing relapses. Available at: Accessed April 2020.

UK | July 2020 | MUL20-C021