What Is Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis?

Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

In This Article

Table of Contents
Doctor and patient talking

Getty Images

Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis is a type of neurological disease caused by the breakdown of protective nerve coverings. It is the most common type of multiple sclerosis—85 percent of those diagnosed with multiple sclerosis are diagnosed with the relapsing-remitting type. (Multiple sclerosis affects over one million adults in the United States.)

Symptoms

This breakdown has an impact on the majority of the central nervous system, including the muscles and nerves of the spinal cord along with the brain. The absence of these nerve coverings causes pain and weakness, which can get so severe that individuals may be unable to walk or care for themselves. These symptoms are then followed by a remission period where symptoms partially lessen or subside entirely.

Symptomatology of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis includes but is not limited to:

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty walking
  • Numbness or tingling of the arms, legs, or face,
  • Weakness
  • Vision deficits
  • Vertigo
  • Pain
  • Bladder and bowel problems
  • Cognitive deficits
  • Mood changes

In severe cases, individuals will experience speech and swallowing problems due to muscle weakness in the throat and mouth.

Additional severe symptoms are breathing problems, tremors, and seizures.

Causes

While a definitive cause of multiple sclerosis has not been identified, there are many factors which play a role in its course. There are several factors which increase the risk of multiple sclerosis developing, along with increasing the rate of disease progression. Recent research has shown one of the factors contributing to multiple sclerosis is an abnormal immune response. This immune response attacks and causes damage to the central nervous system, resulting in many of the common neurological symptoms.

Geographic location also has an impact on the rate of multiple sclerosis developing. Individuals who live farther from the equator are more likely to develop multiple sclerosis. Other lifestyle choices which increase the likelihood of someone being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis are vitamin D deficiencies, smoking, and obesity.

There is some evidence pointing toward infections such as measles, chlamydia, herpes, and Epstein-Barr virus increasing the risk of someone developing multiple sclerosis. However, more research is needed to definitively name this as a cause.

While multiple sclerosis cannot be passed down from generations who are diagnosed with it, there is a genetic component.

Risk factors can be passed between family members, but this may not develop into a multiple sclerosis diagnosis if an individual does not possess the other risk factors.

Diagnosis

Doctors must use laboratory and imaging tests to diagnose someone with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. These diagnostic tests must show evidence of at least two lesions to the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Additionally, these tests must show the lesions (or masses) caused damaged at different periods in time.

Diagnosis of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis can only be officially made after ruling out all other diagnoses and observing at least two attacks involving increased symptomatology.

Treatment

Multiple sclerosis can be treated through a range of pharmacological interventions, depending on which phase the disease is in. These may include intravenous options such as methylprednisolone (steroids) or beta injections for those in the acute or relapsing phase. For those in the remitting phase where symptoms are not active, oral medications or infusions are indicated to keep symptoms at bay.

Prevention is also a large part of treating this form of multiple sclerosis when the disease is in the remitting or recovery phase. Symptoms such as muscle weakness, spasticity, cognitive deficits, and tremors can be treated with a combination of occupational therapy and physical therapy.

If an individual’s level of functioning is such that warrants a referral to these rehabilitation services, your doctor will assist in getting you started. Speech therapy may also be indicated if symptoms include speech or swallowing deficits.

Coping

Living with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis can be difficult, especially as managing the differing presentations of the disease can impact daily functioning and resilience. Prevention and modification to lifestyle choices are paramount at all points, but especially during the remitting phase where individuals typically tend to regain strength.

A combination of health education and participation in rehabilitation treatment protocols to maximize gains and improve attention to lifestyle choices can greatly benefit those coping with relapsing-remitting MS.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

  • MS Symptoms. National MS Society. Published 2018.

  • Types of MS. National MS Society. Published 2018.

  • What is MS? National MS Society.

  • Pandit L & Murthy JMK. Treatment of multiple sclerosis. 2011, Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, 14(Suppl1), S65-S69. DOI: 10.4103/0972-2327.83094