FAQs about MS relapses

“MS relapse” and “MS flare-up” are synonyms that can be used interchangeably. Both terms refer to a sudden worsening of multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms in the absence of fever or infection. Other terms such as attack, clinical episode, and exacerbation also may be used in reference to an MS relapse.

The biological underpinnings of relapses in multiple sclerosis are incompletely understood, but broadly, relapses are driven by new or worsening inflammation damaging nerves in the brain and spinal cord. This can interfere with nerve signals and ultimately lead to the appearance of new symptoms or the worsening of older ones.

Some multiple sclerosis (MS) relapses are mild enough that they do not require treatment, whereas others may be severe enough to cause significant impairment. However, it’s generally recommended patients who think they are experiencing a relapse contact their healthcare team to determine the next steps in their management.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) exacerbations can cause any of the wide range of symptoms that may occur in MS; the specific symptoms depend on which parts of the nervous system are being actively damaged, and will vary from patient to patient and even from relapse to relapse for individuals. Some of the most common relapse symptoms include fatigue, pain or other unusual sensations, weakness, spasticity, difficulty with coordination or cognition, bladder problems, and vision difficulties.

Some multiple sclerosis patients are particularly sensitive to changes in body temperature and may experience a temporary worsening of multiple sclerosis symptoms called a pseudo-exacerbation. This worsening of symptoms may feel similar to an MS relapse, but it is not a true flare-up because these symptoms are not caused by active inflammation, and will resolve once body temperature returns to normal.

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