On MSAA’s Helpline we often hear questions about MS relapses and what constitutes a relapse. Individuals ask whether the symptoms they are currently experiencing are just due to their MS or if an exacerbation of symptoms may be occurring. These are great questions that warrant valid and informative responses. The challenging piece of this, on the part of the healthcare professional at times, is helping to identify a true MS relapse from a pseudoexacerbation.
To be diagnosed with a true relapse, there must be certain factors at play. Individuals will either experience new symptoms or a worsening/recurrence of existing symptoms. These acute symptoms have to be present for at least 24-48 hours, without signs of other infections or fevers. This is where it can become tricky identifying a relapse from a pseudoexacerbation. Because with the latter, one can experience a temporary worsening of symptoms without inflammation or nerve damage occurring. A pseudo flare can result from illness/infection, fever, stress, heat sensitivity and other factors.
It’s important to discuss these differences with your healthcare team so that you can better communicate if you’re feeling any changes in your symptoms. Ask your doctor what signs you should look for if a relapse may be present, and when you should reach out to their office for assistance. Talk about ways a relapse could be treated and managed if it occurs. And make a plan for what you should do if you’re not able to get in touch with your doctor’s office. Some individuals will seek emergency medical services if needed when they’re experiencing worsening symptoms. So ask your doctor if/when you should seek care in this manner. Asking questions about MS relapses can be an integral part of your overall treatment plan and follow-up care.