Examining How Early Relapses Shape MS Disability Progression

26 September 2023

  • MS Australia-funded researchers explored the connection between relapses and disability progression in early-stage MS (ROMS) over 15 years.
  • Early relapses within the first 2-3 years of MS onset are linked to short-term disability worsening, while later relapses have a lesser impact.
  • Disability worsening strongly predicted current and future relapses, emphasising the importance of effective management.

Mapping the Course of MS

The aim of this research was to better understand the relationship between relapses and disability worsening in people with MS, especially those who experience relapses when the disease first starts (relapse-onset MS or ROMS).

The researchers used data from a group of 279 individuals who were followed for up to 15 years after their first MS symptoms.

What did the researchers do?

A research team, including several MS Australia-funded researchers, looked at how relapses and disability worsening were connected and whether the use of disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) affected this relationship.

They used statistical models to analyse the data and published their findings in Scientific Reports.

What did the researchers find?

The research team found early relapses that occurred within the first 2-3 years of MS onset were linked to a higher risk of disability worsening shortly after each relapse. However, they did not seem to contribute to long-term disability worsening afterwards.

Disability worsening was also found to significantly increase the risk of having more relapses each year, and this risk persisted over time, regardless of whether DMTs were used.

They also discovered that using DMTs for a longer duration was associated with a reduced risk of both relapses and disability worsening.

Furthermore, older age and the type of DMTs used played a significant role in determining individual outcomes.

What does this mean for people with MS?

For individuals with ROMS, experiencing relapses in the early stages of the disease may be a sign of potential short-term disability worsening.

However, late relapses occurring more than 2-3 years after MS onset may not be as strongly linked to further disability worsening.

Conversely, experiencing disability worsening appears to be a strong predictor of both current and future relapses, highlighting the importance of managing disability to reduce relapse risk.

In practical terms, this research shows that when dealing with MS in its early stages, it is crucial for people with MS to act quickly and decisively when relapses and disability occur. Long-term use of DMTs can also help prevent relapses and disability from getting worse.

It is important for people with MS to report all relapses to their MS care team and adhere to DMT therapy. This way, individuals with MS can lower the risk of experiencing more relapses and worsening disability, ultimately improving their quality of life.


Relapses – MS in a minute

A relapse or exacerbation is a period of worsening symptoms...

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Examining How Early Relapses Shape MS Disability Progression