Relapsing Remitting MS
You’ve no doubt heard of multiple sclerosis, or MS, but did you know there are various types of the disease? Relapsing remitting MS is one such type and is the most common by far.
In this article, we will go over the basics of what relapsing remitting MS (RRMS) is, including commonly experienced symptoms and treatment options.
What is Relapsing Remitting MS?
MS, a disease affecting the central nervous system, is characterized by inflammation and lesions that prevent the brain from communicating correctly to other parts of your body. The result is often fatigue, trouble walking, and other symptoms like pain and cognitive struggles.
Up to 85% of those with MS also suffer from relapsing remitting MS, which is where the disease will come and go in a series of alternating relapses and remissions. This makes it by far the most common subcategory of MS, with the majority of MS patients dealing with these periods of relapse and remission.
In RRMS, the relapse period is defined as phases where new symptoms emerge or worsen, last more than 48 hours, and are not caused by a fever or infection.
These episodes are followed by a period without any symptoms, where the disease goes into remission. These phases can last up to many months, or may only last a few weeks. During remission phases, the disease is stable and does not progress.
Symptoms of Relapsing Remitting MS
The symptoms of RRMS vary greatly from person to person, so it is hard to define an exact list of symptoms to expect. In general, warning signs and early symptoms of MS can include:
- Brain fog
- Balance problems
- Numbness or tingling
- Weakness, stiff muscles, or dizziness
- Changes in vision (often the first sign of RRMS)
Not only can symptoms vary widely from person to person and be triggered by different things (such as heat or bending one’s neck forward), but symptoms may change for an individual over the course of disease.
In RRMS, any of the above symptoms can emerge and/or worsen during a flare-up. Symptoms may include ones you have not previously experienced during the course of your disease. During the remission, all symptoms will partially or fully subside until the next relapse period.
RRMS is extremely common among MS patients and there is no specialized test to determine that you do indeed have this form of MS. The general rule of thumb is if you have experienced at least two flare ups of your MS and for the rest of the time you were stable/symptom-free. (The standard test options for determining a case of MS include MRI scans of the brain and spine or possibly a spinal tap.)
The management and treatment options for MS in general will also vary from patient to patient and these are the same treatment options that will be used to treat RRMS. Just like there is no separate test to determine you have RRMS, the treatment options for RRMS and MS are one in the same.
The most common treatment option is medication, which can help to control the symptoms and make living with RRMS manageable. RRMS/MS is not curable, but the proper treatment can certainly keep flare-ups at bay, slow the progression of the disease, and aim to reduce the number of relapses.
There are various types of MS treatments such as injectable interferon beta drugs that help reduce the number of relapses. Another injectable option called glatiramer acetate is aimed at blocking the immune system from attacking myelin. Many other options exist in pill form, or can be given by IV at the hospital. Steroids may also play a role in an MS treatment. Finally, other medicines can specifically address side effects caused by MS like muscle spasms, depressions, erectile dysfunction, depression, pain, and fatigue.
Those suffering from RRMS should get individualized advice from their doctor, as treatment options will vary from patient to patient. Each medication also comes with side effects that will need to be watched and monitored closely by your medical provider.
In addition to prescribed medications, certain lifestyle habits can play a role in managing RRMS. These could include physical therapy and rehab, eating a diet low in saturated and trans-fat, taking care of yourself with ample sleep and exercise, and avoiding smoking. In addition to these changes and healthy habits, tending to mental health is important, as MS can be associated with depression. Seeing a therapist who can help with the changes and side effects associated with MS can be extremely helpful.
Can It Be Prevented?
Is there any way to prevent RRMS, or MS in general? At this time, the disease is still not yet fully understood so there is no sure way to prevent it (or cure it).
RRMS is thought to develop due to a combination of genetics and environmental factors that play a role in the onset. Some preliminary studies have been done mostly on mice to see if vitamin D levels, caffeine, resveratrol or even the common virus may play a role in prevention, but at this time, there is no known way to prevent the disease.