Can MS Go Into Remission?

Multiple Sclerosis Remission

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks healthy cells in the protective myelin covering of nerves in the brain and spinal cord. It is a lifelong disease that can lead to disability. Relapsing-remitting MS is a type of MS that includes phases of flare-ups followed by periods of remission.

Flare-ups (also called MS attacks, flares, or relapses) are times when the disease is active, and symptoms are more severe. Remission phases occur when the disease is not active or minimally active. A person in remission may experience minor symptoms or show no signs of MS illness.

This article will discuss MS remission and what you can expect during remission and flare-ups.

Woman with multiple sclerosis uses cane while walking with a friend

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Treatment During Remission

MS symptoms must be significantly reduced or entirely gone for the disease to be considered in remission or no longer active.

Providers can prescribe different types of medications to treat MS, including medicines to:

  • Delay the progression of the disease
  • Prevent flare-ups
  • Treat symptoms and flare-ups

Your provider may instruct you to continue using medication during remission to prevent flare-ups and delay MS progression. In some cases, medicines used to treat MS symptoms, such as steroids, may be discontinued during remission since they are unnecessary and can cause side effects.

Steroids or Corticosteroids

Steroids, also known as corticosteroids, are medications used to decrease inflammation and manage diseases.

Research is limited regarding when to stop using disease-modifying therapy (DMT), which are medications to prevent flare-ups and delay disease progression, so this is a decision that the patient and medical providers make together.

Treatment During Flare-Ups

Flare-ups are classified as MS symptoms lasting at least 24 hours or more and occurring at least 30 days after the previous flare-up.

Medications to suppress the immune system and decrease disease activity during flare-ups include:

  • Rayos or Prednisone Intensol (prednisone): Steroid used temporarily for mild to moderate flare-ups
  • Solu-Medrol (methylprednisone): Steroid used temporarily for severe flare-ups
  • H.P. Acthar (adrenocorticotropic hormone, ACTH, or corticotropin): An alternative to steroids

People with MS may also use medications to treat flare-up symptoms like depression, pain, and bladder dysfunction. In addition to medications, complementary medicine options and behavioral and lifestyle changes may help manage symptoms.

Symptoms of Flare-Ups

Flare-up symptoms can vary from person to person and may include:

  • Depression
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of coordination
  • Needing to urinate urgently
  • Numbness, especially in feet
  • Sensitivity to heat
  • Trouble seeing
  • Trouble with balance

What Causes Flare-Ups?

The cause of MS flare-ups is not clearly defined. Research has shown that genetics plays a role in MS, and various factors can affect genetics and lead to symptoms.

MS flare-ups may be triggered by:

Preventing Flare-Ups

Medications may be used to prevent MS flare-ups. For example, Aubagio (teriflunomide) is a medication that effectively prevents flare-ups by suppressing the immune system.

Aside from medications, people with MS can prevent flare-ups with healthy behaviors and lifestyle choices. Viruses, smoking, and low levels of vitamin D can trigger flare-ups, so regular handwashing, quitting smoking, and getting enough vitamin D are good practices to minimize the risk of MS flares.

Relaxation and regular stress relief practices may help prevent emotional stress from leading to flare-ups.

MS Timeline: What to Expect

MS has no set timeline because different people experience the condition differently. However, most people with relapse-remitting MS begin to experience symptoms in their 20s or 30s.

Disease Progression Over Time

Over a few decades, the disease tends to progress and get worse. However, some people do experience remission, and symptoms do not return. Regardless of returning symptoms, people with MS can live long, happy lives.

Summary

Multiple sclerosis is a lifelong illness characterized by phases of flare-ups (active symptoms) and remission (mild to no symptoms). You may not need treatment during remission. During flare-ups, medications may be used to suppress the immune system, decrease disease activity, and treat symptoms. There are ways to prevent flare-ups, such as continuing medications and making healthy behavior and lifestyle choices.

A Word From Verywell

Suspecting, being diagnosed with, and living with multiple sclerosis can be challenging, especially during flare-ups. If you or someone you know is experiencing MS symptoms, help is available. It is possible to manage symptoms, achieve remission, and prevent future flare-ups. Reach out to a healthcare provider for support.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does MS ever stop progressing?

    Relapsing-remitting MS continues to get worse in most people, but not all. Some people experience remission without returning symptoms. There are medications to prevent flare-ups and slow the progression of the disease. Additionally, behavior and lifestyle changes can be made, such as quitting smoking to avoid flare-ups.

  • Can MS be in remission for years at a time?

    Yes, MS remission can last years. For some people, symptoms never return. Medications and healthy lifestyle choices can prevent flare-ups and make remission last longer.

  • How do you know if MS is in remission?

    MS remission occurs when the disease is no longer active. The easiest way to tell if MS is in remission is if symptoms improve or go away completely.

  • How long does an MS relapse last?

    MS relapse can last anywhere from 24 hours to years. Usually it lasts a few weeks or months. Medications and healthy lifestyle choices can shorten the length of relapses.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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