Preparing for a Life With Relapsing-Remitting MS

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on March 20, 2022
4 min read

If you have relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS), you'll have to prepare for the times your symptoms flare up and periods when they quiet down.   

Flares can be unpredictable. It's hard to know when they'll arrive. To cut the number of flares and slow the disease, follow the treatment plan your doctor suggests.

Even if you're on treatment, RRMS can affect your life in many ways. When you learn what changes to expect and plan for them, you can stay active and prevent the disease from disrupting your routine.

Feeling tired is one of the most common symptoms. Nearly everyone with RRMS will have fatigue at one time or another.

It isn't your typical tiredness. You might feel too exhausted to go to work, or do just about anything else. Even if you sleep well and don't push yourself too much, you can still feel tired. 

One way to fight fatigue is to preserve your energy. Take regular breaks throughout the day. See a physical therapist or occupational therapist to learn ways to save energy, like sitting on a stool while you cook.

Disrupted sleep is one reason for fatigue. RRMS can interfere with your sleep in a few different ways.

Poor sleep is a side effect of steroids and other medicines that treat your disease. The urge to use the bathroom can wake you up many times during the night. Stress and depression from MS might also keep you awake.

If you don't sleep well, see your doctor. Medicines can help you manage nighttime pain and stop the bathroom runs. You can also try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of talk therapy that helps people with MS sleep better.

It's normal to feel anxious or stressed when you live with a long-term illness -- especially one that's so hard to predict. Depression is one of the most common MS symptoms.

Both MS and some of the medicines you take to treat it can trigger depression. And if you don't handle your depression, it can make MS symptoms like pain and fatigue harder to control.

Tell your doctor if you've been feeling down. A therapist or support group can help you manage stress and anxiety. You may need to take antidepressants if your depression is severe enough to interfere with your life.

RRMS treatments have improved so much that fewer people today become disabled than in the past. But it can still affect how well you get around. Weakness, poor balance, and dizziness can lead to falls. A fear of falling may prevent you from staying active.

See a physical therapist to learn exercises that strengthen your leg muscles and improve your balance. Physical therapy will also teach you how to walk safely and use a cane, walker, or other mobility aid to prevent falls.

An occupational therapist can help you redesign your home for maximum safety. They'll recommend changes like no-slip strips on floors and grab bars in the bathrooms to prevent falls.

You might notice that words and names slip easily from your mind these days. RRMS affects how well you can remember, learn, organize, plan, and solve problems. About half of people with MS have trouble with these and other thinking skills.

Memory problems often start early in the disease and get worse during flares. And though these symptoms are often mild, they can be upsetting and may interfere with your job.

See your doctor for a screening test. If you're having problems thinking and remembering, cognitive rehabilitation can help. This program uses learning and memory exercises to help you make up for the skills you've lost.

MS damages parts of the brain that help you see clearly. If your sight is blurred, you see double, or you lose vision in one eye, see an eye doctor for tests.

Steroids, DMARDs, and other MS treatments bring down the inflammation that affects vision. There are also treatments for specific vision issues. For example, to treat double vision, you can wear an eye patch over one eye when you read or drive.

Nerve damage from MS disrupts the signals between your brain and bladder and bowel that tell you when to go. As a result, you may find it hard to control the urge, or have accidental leaks.

One way to prevent accidents is to go to the bathroom at regular times during the day. Limit how much you drink, especially before bedtime. You might also try physical therapy to strengthen the muscles you use to go to the bathroom.

One place you might not expect see the effects of RRMS is in the bedroom. Yet more than 90% of men and 70% of women with MS report sexual problems.

MS can damage the nerves that help you get aroused, feel pleasure, and reach orgasm. Men may have trouble getting an erection, while women can get vaginal dryness. Symptoms like fatigue and depression reduce the desire to have sex.

You don't have to give up on sex because of MS. These problems can be treated. Medications can help men get an erection. Women can use a lubricant to relieve dryness. Counseling sessions with a mental health provider or sex therapist can help you overcome the mental and physical issues that stand in the way of a healthy sex life.