How to Recognize an MS Attack

Most forms of multiple sclerosis (MS) involve stretches of time when you feel good and other times when your symptoms act up. You might hear those worse periods called:

  • Attacks
  • Relapses
  • Flare-ups
  • Episodes
  • Exacerbations

How do you know if what you’re having is one?

Signs of an MS Attack

During an attack, some symptoms you’ve had before may get worse, or you could have new ones.

These can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Problems with balance and coordination
  • Trouble with your vision
  • Issues with your bladder
  • Numb or tingling feelings (pins and needles)
  • Problems with your memory
  • Trouble concentrating

It's a relapse if:

  • You’d been free of symptoms for at least 30 days before the ones you’re having now started
  • They last at least 24 hours
  • There’s no obvious trigger

Not every symptom is a sign of a relapse. If yours last less than 48 hours, you may have had something called a pseudoexacerbation. That’s when you temporarily feel symptoms.

Keep in mind that if you have even the slightest fever, it could be a sign of an infection. That also can cause problems like those you’d feel in a relapse.

What to Do

If you think you’re having a relapse, call your MS doctor right away, even if you don’t think it’s major. She’ll ask about your symptoms, how long you’ve had them, if you’ve been sick, and if you’ve changed any of your medication.

A relapse doesn’t necessarily need treatment. In some cases, symptoms will ease on their own. Still, the fact you’re having one can help your doctor make decisions about how you may be treated moving forward.

Every person is different, so it may be hard to track down what can trigger a relapse for you. As you get more familiar with how the condition affects you, you’ll recognize your symptoms more easily and know what to do about them.

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



Multiple Sclerosis Association of America: “What Is An MS Relapse?”

Multiple Sclerosis Trust: “Relapse.”

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: “What Is MS?”

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