Relapsing multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive disease that causes damage to the central nervous system (CNS). Everybody experiences relapsing MS differently. The various ways the symptoms may evolve has been used to describe a few different forms of relapsing MS.
About 85% of people with MS have relapsing MS. Below, you will find more details about relapsing MS, its symptoms, and the treatment options available.
Estimates over 17 years suggest that the prevalence of MS in the US ranges from 851,749 to 913,925 people, based on health claims data. Please keep in mind these are estimates and not exact. It is about 2-3 times more common in women than in men. People are usually diagnosed with MS between the ages of 20 and 50. However, diagnosis can also happen at other ages.
Relapsing MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease, which means that instead of defending the body against harmful invaders (such as viruses or bacteria), the immune system attacks the body itself.
Specifically, relapsing forms of MS affect the cells of the CNS. Your brain contains nerve cells, which are called neurons. These neurons have nerve fibers (axons) that are protected and insulated by the myelin sheath. Myelin helps neurons send electrical signals to and from the brain, telling the body what to do.
With relapsing MS, immune cells cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB), cause inflammation within the CNS, and attack the myelin sheath. This is thought to interfere with the ability of neurons to send signals between the brain and the body. When your brain can't properly communicate with nerves and muscles, various symptoms of relapsing MS can occur.
As your disease progresses, existing relapsing MS symptoms may worsen, or new symptoms may appear during a flare-up. If you have any questions about relapsing MS symptoms, the best source of information is your healthcare provider.
Relapses, also known as flare-ups or exacerbations, are new symptoms or a worsening of existing symptoms. Their severity and duration are often unpredictable. Relapses can:
Even infrequent or mild relapses can cause permanent damage to the CNS and may lead to future disability.
If you think that you might be having a relapse, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider.
Relapsing MS causes brain lesions that can be visualized with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRIs are able to show both recent lesion development and previous lesion damage. Some common types of lesions that can be visualized with MRIs include:
The exact relationship between MRI findings and the development of clinical symptoms is not clear. However, MRIs are commonly used to help you and your healthcare provider monitor disease activity in your body.
It’s important to talk with your neurologist about each one of your MRIs because that may help with working out a treatment plan moving forward.
Whether or not you are experiencing any relapsing MS symptoms that you can feel on a daily basis, underlying relapsing MS activity could be damaging your CNS.
Studies have shown that nerve damage, which may contribute to physical disability progression, can happen during relapses or when new symptoms arise.
To help slow this progression, talk with your healthcare provider about starting on treatment as soon as you are diagnosed.
Do your research. Look at the ways that different treatment options work. Find out about their clinical studies, side effects, effectiveness, dosing, and administration. Learning all you can empowers you to make a confident decision with your healthcare provider.