A flareup or exacerbation is a period of worsening symptoms that can either be new symptoms or the return or worsening of existing ones. Exacerbations can also be referred to as flares or relapses.
So how can you tell whether the symptoms you’re having are regular features of your MS, or if they’re an exacerbation?
No two exacerbations are alike, and symptoms vary from person to person and from one exacerbation to another. For example, the exacerbation might be an episode of optic neuritis (caused by inflammation of the optic nerve that impairs vision), or problems with balance or severe fatigue.
Some relapses produce only one symptom (related to inflammation in a single area of the central nervous system) while other relapses cause two or more symptoms at the same time (related to inflammation in more than one area of the central nervous system). They can range from mild to serious in severity.
An exacerbation attack must last at least 24 hours and be separated from the previous attack by at least 30 days. Most exacerbations last from a few days to several weeks or even months.
Exacerbations (or relapses) are caused by inflammation in the central nervous system. The inflammation damages the myelin, which slows or disrupts the transmission of nerve impulses and causes the symptoms of MS.
In the most common disease course in MS — called relapsing-remitting MS — clearly defined acute exacerbations are followed by remissions as the inflammatory process gradually comes to an end. Going into remission doesn’t necessarily mean that the symptoms disappear totally — some people will return to feeling exactly as they did before the exacerbation began, while others may find themselves left with some ongoing symptoms.
Our MS in a Minute videos were created to provide fast and factual definitions of commonly used terms in MS.
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