What's Not an MS Relapse?

If you have multiple sclerosis, you know symptoms of your disease can come and go. But sometimes it might be hard to tell when you’re having a relapse.

A relapse (also called a flare-up or exacerbation) is when your symptoms get worse or you develop new ones. It can last days, weeks, or months. Your relapse may cause one symptom or several at a time.

From one relapse to the next, you may feel different things.

Whatever happens, relapses are temporary. Over time, your symptoms should improve.

You’re probably not having a relapse if:

Your symptom(s) lasts less than a day.
With a relapse, symptoms can be off-and-on instead of continuous. Either way, if they go away within 24 hours, they’re not a sign of a relapse.  But call your doctor if your symptoms are severe. For example, your vision isn’t as clear as it usually is, or you’re so weak you can barely stand, walk, or move. In that case, don’t wait 24 hours to tell your doctor. These can be signs of a relapse, and medication may help keep them from getting worse.

You feel tired.
MS can make you feel tired a lot. Everyday fatigue, though, isn’t a sign of a relapse. Call your doctor if you feel really exhausted for more than a day.

You had a relapse less than a month ago.
If it’s been less than 30 days since your last flare-up, symptoms you get are a part of that relapse, not a new one. But call your doctor if you notice new symptoms or yours are getting worse. You may need medication to help until things ease up.

Your brain feels foggy.
You’re more likely to have trouble thinking during a relapse. But cognitive problems, like having trouble remembering things or keeping up with a conversation, can happen anytime and usually get worse over time. Call your doctor if you notice a sudden change in your ability to remember or think through things.

You were recently in a warm or hot place.
Heat doesn’t actually make MS worse. But even small increases in your body temperature can make it harder for your nerves to send electrical impulses. That can trigger symptoms like fatigue, weakness, and vision problems. Luckily, heat-related issues usually go away a few hours once you cool off. But call your doctor if your symptoms don’t go away after 24 hours.

You have a cold or the flu.
Viral infections, like a cold or flu, can trigger temporary vision problems. They can also make you feel weak. These symptoms usually go away within a day.  But call your doctor if your vision problems or weakness don’t go away after 24 hours. Let your doctor know, even if you still have a cold or flu.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on May 05, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: "Heat & Temperature Sensitivity," “Vision Problems in Multiple Sclerosis," "Managing Relapses," "Fatigue," "Cognitive Changes," "Speech & Swallowing: The Basic Facts," "Speech Problems."

Fiona Gupta, MD, a neurologist at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

Multiple Sclerosis Society U.K.: "Relapsing Remitting (RRMS)."

© 2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.