You can go years without a relapse; here’s what to do when you experience one
If you have relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS), you can go long stretches—even years—without experiencing a change in your symptoms. Then, boom: Something happens.
First, determine if what you’re feeling is actually a relapse:
You develop a new symptom. For example, you’ve never had vision problems, and now you can’t see clearly out of one of your eyes.
Symptoms last for 24 hours or longer. A relapse means a change in your brain, called a lesion. If what you’re experiencing lasts less than 24 hours, it’s not a relapse.
A problem you’ve been having all along gets worse. You’ve had numbness in your left leg, but now you can’t feel anything below your knee.
Symptoms level off after a while.
Flare-ups can last for days, months or a year. You’ll usually improve, but it could be slow going. And you might not recover completely.
You can’t prevent MS relapses, but you can take steps to treat them:
Take your medication as directed.
Track your symptoms. Talk to your doctor if you notice breakthrough events; it could mean your medication has stopped working.
Get proper rest. If you’re overworked, stressed or not getting enough sleep, MS symptoms could be more troublesome. Many find that exercise helps to manage symptoms better.
If you smoke, stop. Smokers lose brain tissue faster than nonsmokers, say the experts. Ease up on alcohol, too.
If your coping strategies aren’t working, your neurologist may need to step in. He or she may:
Send you to physical therapy. These exercises will help you recover the use of a leg or hand.
Put you on steroids. If you suddenly aren’t able to walk or see, steroids (usually through an IV or lots of pills for three to five days) will make you feel better fast.
Perform a plasma exchange. This process—where some of the blood is removed from your body, blood cells and plasma are separated, blood cells mixed with a fluid that replaces the plasma and then transfused back into your body—may treat a severe flare-up if high-dose steroids aren’t doing the trick.
Though you should be good to yourself during a flare-up, you should try to go about your daily activities as much as possible. In other words, don’t overdo it, but don’t give up, either.