How is MS Like Groundhog Day Predictions?
Despite overcast skies, the famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, managed to see his shadow and predict another six weeks of winter at this midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox. Meanwhile his colleague, Staten Island Chuck, calls for an early spring. Which rodent is correct? Who knows. The weather can be stubbornly unpredictable.
Multiple sclerosis is unpredictable.
Have you even wondered how long a relapse or flare up of MS symptoms would last? I have. When you are in the middle of a relapse, you want it to be over with as soon as possible (similar to how I feel about the possibility of an extended winter). But if you ask your doctor, or your friends, how much longer will I experience these symptoms, you will likely receive as many conflicting answers as were given by the various weather prognosticating groundhogs around the country this morning.
Multiple sclerosis is unique to each individual.
With each relapse I’ve experienced over the years, I have learned a bit more about how my body reacts to this disease. Each relapse has been different, while there may have been some similarities. Sometimes, the new or increased symptoms have continued for months despite steroid treatments (such as when I first had optic neuritis and was temporarily blind for almost three months). On other occasions, symptoms of a relapse were so mild that I was well into the event before realizing it and skipped steroid treatment at all because things were already getting better.
How long does an MS relapse last?
This is a common question, especially for patients who are newly diagnosed with MS, and a question for which there is no good answer other than “it depends.” For some patients, a relapse may last for a few days; for others, it may last for weeks or months. My personal experience has leaned towards the latter.
What is a relapse?
A relapse is defined by an acute worsening of neurologic function (i.e. MS symptoms) in patients diagnosed with MS that lasts for more than 24 hours and is separated by a previous relapse by at least 30 days. During a relapse, you might experience new symptoms and/or worsening of previous of existing symptoms.
Relapses are caused by acute inflammation in the central nervous system. Relapses are sometimes accompanied by new lesions in the white matter of the brain or spinal cord as seen on MRI scans, but not always. Conversely, new lesions do not always cause new symptoms in MS. Multiple sclerosis is a disease that defies easy correlations.
To learn more about relapsing forms of MS, relapses, and available treatment options, check out these articles:
• How is relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) different from other forms of MS?
• What is the difference between an MS relapse and a pseudoexacerbation?
• When to report mild relapses to your doctor
• Denying Denial: Admitting to an MS Relapse and Taking Action
I don’t know about you, but I’m hoping that Staten Island Chuck’s prediction of an early spring is correct. I’m looking forward to turning off the heat and opening the windows. In the meantime, I’ll happily stay bundled up inside and keep warm.
If there are other topics you would like me to cover in future articles, please let me know in the comments section below. Thanks!