Whether you’re newly diagnosed or not, there will be more than one occasion when you ask yourself this question. So how do you tell if you’re having a relapse?
If you have multiple sclerosis (MS) relapses are a big part of your condition. Typically relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis is characterised by relapses. However, even if you have secondary progressive or primary progressive MS you could still experience them, but perhaps less frequently.
A relapse can be defined as a sudden episode of new or worsening symptoms over a period of days, weeks or months.
What constitutes as a relapse?
Everyone is different and it can be difficult to recognise a relapse. Symptoms associated with a relapse can include: fatigue; pain; muscle stiffness or spasms; balance problems; weakness; numbness and tingling; bladder and bowel problems; changes to vision, thinking and memory and coordination issues. You may experience one or many of these symptoms at any one time.
New symptoms can develop, or those that you have previously experienced can worsen during a relapse and they can appear slowly or suddenly. To qualify as a relapse, symptoms must last for more than 24 hours and last for at least 30 days from the start of your last relapse. It is important to inform your doctor or MS nurse about your symptoms, so they can offer advice and treatment if necessary.
It is also important to rule out any other reasons for the symptoms you are experiencing. Infections, heat and stress are all common factors that are known to make MS symptoms worse and once treated symptoms may subside.
Write it down
It can be helpful to keep a symptom diary. Documenting the symptom, how long it lasts and how it affected you, for example, can help you define whether it is a relapse or not, and will also give your neurologist and MS nurse a clearer overview of how you experience MS and what they can do to help. Track your symptoms using the MS-UK symptom diary. Click here to download your free symptoms diary.
A relapse is a result of inflammation in the immune system damage to the myelin, otherwise known as demyelination. Demyelination can slow or block the messages sent via the central nervous system, which as a result can cause the number of symptoms listed previously. However, inflammation doesn’t always cause a relapse. It can occur on other parts of the brain that aren’t associated with symptoms and the brain may be able to reroute around inflammation, this type of inflammation is known as silent lesions.
What should I do if I am having a relapse?
Relapses can be a sign that your MS is more active so it is important to report each one, even if you don't think you need medical treatment. Report it to your GP, MS nurse, or neurologist, who will then advise you on the best cause of action.