MS Relapses: An Evolution of Perspective

By Stacie Prada

Multiple sclerosis relapses are scary for the symptoms they bring, and they’re overwhelming for the individual prognosis. Sharing our history and perspectives on relapses can help each of us gauge how we’re similar and different. It can show us how we are at different locations on similar paths or how we’re not on the same path at all. Anticipating how long my path is, what I may encounter along the way and how quickly or slowly I’ll reach each phase helps me put today in perspective and plan for the future.

Years 1 through 5 after MS Diagnosis were full of relapses, and my primary goal was to not have a relapse.  Those years were full of stress, confusion and frustration. The amount of information to learn and apply was staggering. The reliance on doctors to provide testing and assessment of whether I was having a relapse or not made me feel helpless. My health journals overflow with information to help me make sense of my body. Each relapse felt like failure.

Year 5Monitoring MS Symptoms and Trying to Avoid Relapses
I started blogging, and my lessons learned became more accessible for me to find later. This one is a go-to resource that reminds me to pay attention to what my body needs while accommodating what life requires. 

Year 6I Feel Like a Rock Star!
I was declared “stable and in remission.” I reached a point of confidence where I felt like I could finally tell if I was having an exacerbation or not. I knew how terrible I felt when I was having a relapse, and I knew how well I could feel when I wasn’t. I’d learned my body enough to know which symptoms were normal for me. I could distinguish between when the intensity and duration was likely due to existing damage from previous relapses and when it was likely new active MS activity. 

Year 8When is it an MS Exacerbation?
I documented and shared my mental checklist for relapse self-diagnosis with examples. I still read it whenever I wonder if I’m having an exacerbation.

Year 10Relapse Management
People with MS do not have complete control over whether or not they have a relapse. If someday there is a determined cause, cure and 100% effective management regimen, then that might be possible. Until then, the only ways I think relapses can be managed are to tackle them when they happen, reflect on them after they happen to try to find any patterns or contributors that you might be able to control, incorporate what helps, avoid what doesn’t, and try to make the fear manageable when they do happen. This post includes 13 Guidelines to follow that serve me well daily, then and now.

Year 13, Present Day – Symptoms without relapses: I look back to achieving the highly sought-after status of stable and in remission at year six with fondness and appreciation for the feeling of success. I envy my naiveté thinking that without relapses I’d be safe from disease progression.

The truth is nerves with old lesions can function for a while and give out much later. Some nerve function can repair, but it can also decline causing symptoms to worsen long after the relapse that caused the lesion. 

The majority of people with MS start with relapsing-remitting MS. The statistic that about half of people with MS transition to Secondary-Progressive MS in ten years is based on a time when disease modifying medications didn’t exist. Since these medications are intended to reduce the frequency of relapses and delay disease progression, I’m hopeful I’ll stay in the RRMS phase or take much, much longer than ten years to enter the SPMS phase. Differentiating between what is possible, likely or probable is tough. There are no guarantees, nor are there inevitable outcomes. 

With or without relapses, MS is with me and will shape my future. What I can do is keep doing what I’m doing. Keep learning, monitoring, adapting, and factoring my health into my daily decisions and long-range plans. Appreciate the people on this journey with me, and make sure to have fun along the way. Take very good care, all.

*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 just shy of 38 years old.  Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/

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About MSAA

As a national nonprofit organization, the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America is a leading resource for the entire MS community, improving lives today through vital services and support. MSAA provides free programs and services, such as: a toll-free Helpline; award-winning publications including a magazine, The Motivator; website featuring educational videos and research updates; S.E.A.R.C.H.™ program to assist the MS community with learning about different treatment choices; a mobile phone app, My MS Manager™; a resource database, My MS Resource Locator; equipment distribution ranging from grab bars to wheelchairs; cooling accessories for heat-sensitive individuals; educational events and activities; MRI funding and insurance advocacy; and more. For additional information, please visit http://www.mymsaa.org or call (800) 532-7667.

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