Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic autoimmune condition caused due to damage in the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS controls all movement in the body, which is why Multiple Sclerosis leads to movement disorders in the limbs, eyes, and other organs. The severity of the condition and the exact symptoms differ from person to person. There are, however, four main categories into which MS can be subdivided. Here, we offer an introduction to Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis, the most common type of Multiple Sclerosis, and what to expect when getting a diagnosis for it.
Understanding Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory condition of the central nervous system. It is an autoimmune demyelinating disease, which means the immune system mistakenly attacks normal tissues — in this case, the myelin or protective covering around nerve fibers. This leaves scarred tissues or lesions in multiple areas, disrupting electrical impulses throughout the body. When the myelin sheath is damaged, nerve impulses slow or even stop, causing neurological problems.
In Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis, patients experience flare-ups during which their symptoms intensify, followed by periods of remissions that could last several months. Most cases of MS are Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. The disease affects people between the age of 20 and 40, and women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with it as men.
Risk Factors for Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis
The exact cause of MS is currently unknown, usually attributed to a mix of environmental and genetic factors. Some of the risk factors that scientists have identified include:
- The presence of dormant infections such as the Epstein-Barr Virus or Human Herpes Virus-6
- Having a sibling or parent with MS
- Being a woman
- Low vitamin D levels
- Exposure to organic solvents like benzene
- Cigarette smoking
- Hailing from Northern Europe
Symptoms of Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis
No two individuals experience Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis the same way. Many of the early signs and symptoms of Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis are quite mild, which is why they often go unnoticed or are attributed to other causes. Some of the initial warning signs may include:
- Numbness and tingling in the hands or feet
- Sensitivity to heat
- Mild electric shock sensation when the neck is bent forward (Lhermitte’s sign)
- Blurry or double vision
- Loss of vision in one eye or both eyes
- Urgent need to urinate
- Sexual dysfunction
- Spasticity in movement
- Poor balance and coordination
- Trouble with thinking, processing information, and remembering facts
These symptoms also manifest during the relapse periods.
Diagnosing Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis
In Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis, each flare-up of symptoms must last at least 24 hours. If you have been experiencing flare-ups like this involving two or more of the above mentioned symptoms, it is important to get a check-up. Your doctor will ask you detailed questions about your symptoms as well as your medical history, and conduct a full physical examination to rule out any other causes that could be responsible. If the examination is inconclusive, you will be recommended to a neurologist who may conduct some or all of the following tests:
- MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) employs magnetic fields and radio waves to present detailed images of the central nervous system. The test pinpoints irregularities by assessing the water content in the body’s tissues. Demyelination is one of the classic indicators of Multiple Sclerosis, as damaged myelin sheaths do not repel water the same way normal ones do. An MRI can also detect other abnormalities that may be causing the symptoms and that the blood test may have skipped.
- Spinal tap: This is also known as a lumbar puncture and involves collecting a sample of the patient’s cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for testing. Neurologists will test the sample for indicators of Multiple Sclerosis, such as an elevated WBC count, an elevated IgG antibody count, or the presence of proteins that are known as oligoclonal bands.
- Evoked potential (EP) tests: EP tests evaluate the brain activity in response to sensory stimuli like sight or sound. The neurologist will place electrodes on the patient’s scalp and monitor the response to minute electrical signals. Most patients with early-stage Multiple Sclerosis demonstrate reduced transmission across the body’s neural pathways, which can cause symptoms like blurry or double vision.
Note that there is no single test that can provide a conclusive diagnosis of Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. The diagnosing process, therefore, may take some time and require a second opinion.
Treatment for Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis
While Multiple Sclerosis has no ultimate cure, the right treatment regime can slow disease progression and keep relapses at bay such that the patient leads an almost-normal life. Treatment options include Stem Cell Therapy, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and Speech Therapy to regain control over muscles and perform everyday activities without pain or discomfort. Cognitive Therapy can also help with the learning and memory disorders that often occur with Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. The sooner treatment commences, the lower the risk of lasting or debilitating nerve damage.
In addition to the treatment the doctor recommends, certain lifestyle changes can prevent the occurrence of flare-ups and help to manage or even curb symptoms. These include:
- Maintaining a diet low in saturated fats and rich in lean protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids
- Doing moderate exercise three to five times a week
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Avoiding tobacco and alcohol
- Avoiding overheating and other potential triggers for flare-ups
- Keeping stress levels low through meditation or yoga
- Maintaining mood and mental health through counselling and engaging in positive activities
Prognosis of Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis
Most cases of Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis remain fairly steady in terms of flare-ups and remissions for the first few decades, after which it tends to get progressively worse. Overall, about two-thirds of Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis cases will convert into Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis 15-20 years after the original diagnosis. MS is rarely fatal, although some of the associated complications such as respiratory or bladder disorders could be fatal unless treated promptly.
The Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis life expectancy is only a few years shorter than average. With the right treatment, moreover, patients can lead an almost normal life throughout. Patients should keep their doctor informed about the occurrence of relapses and the appearance of any new symptoms, so that the treatment can be modified if necessary.
- Is Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis fatal?
Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis is a fairly mild disease in most cases and does not require too many assistive aids. Very rarely is it fatal.
- Is MS treatable if caught early?
Early diagnosis and intervention helps to reduce the inflammation to the nerve cells and thus slow down disease progression.
- How can I stop my MS from progressing?
In addition to following all treatment procedures as the doctor prescribes, patients can slow their rate of MS progression by following a nutritious diet, getting enough exercise, quitting tobacco and alcohol, and getting vaccinated for infectious diseases, if they have not already.
- Can you cure MS with diet?
There is no evidence that any specific diet can cure or alleviate the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. However, a diet rich in fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with better overall health in MS patients.
- Why is dairy bad for MS?
Research has shown that the high fat content in dairy as well as certain proteins present in cow’s milk may aggravate digestive problems and lead to poorer health in MS patients. Instead, doctors recommend dairy substitutes such as soy or almond products.
- Are eggs bad for Multiple Sclerosis?
Eggs are a good source of Vitamin D and biotin, two nutrients that are recommended for patients with MS. However, it is advisable to leave out the egg yolks, as they contain cholesterol.
- What should I avoid with Multiple Sclerosis?
Among the food items recommended as best to avoid for MS patients include processed meats, trans fats, carbonated beverages, sugar, and refined carbohydrates. Sugar and trans fats, in particular, have been linked with flare-ups of MS symptoms.
- What organs does Multiple Sclerosis affect?
Multiple Sclerosis affects the central nervous system, which consists of the brain and spinal cord. As the disease progresses, extended nerve damage can cause other organ systems to malfunction as well.
- What is the best exercise for MS patients?
Doctors recommend that MS patients do a mix of strength training, aerobic exercise, and stretching every week to stay fit and healthy.
- What is Multiple Sclerosis relapse?
A relapse occurs when there is new damage to the nerves in the brain or the spinal cord. This can trigger new symptoms, or cause the return of old symptoms. A period of relapse may last up to 24 hours or even longer in some cases.
- How long can you live with relapsing MS?
The average life expectancy for patients with Relapsing Multiple Sclerosis is about 5-10 years less than normal. While the disease itself is rarely fatal, complications that arise from it such as bladder or chest infections can sometimes cause death.
- What is the difference between MS and relapsing MS?
Multiple Sclerosis is classified into primary progressive MS, relapsing remitting MS, secondary progressive MS, and clinically isolated syndrome.
- What is the rarest form of MS?
Tumefactive Multiple Sclerosis is a rare form of MS that manifests as tumor-like lesions on MRI scans. Symptoms present in similar fashion to a brain tumor.
- Can relapsing MS become progressive?
In about 80% of cases, Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis turns into secondary progressive MS a few decades after the initial diagnosis. When this happens, the relapses become more severe and symptoms become progressively worse.
- What is RRMS Multiple Sclerosis?
Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis is a type of MS that involves relapsing periods of symptom flare-ups followed by remission periods where symptoms remain unchanged.
Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis is a tough diagnosis to receive, particularly when you are young and have plans for how you want your life to work out. However, remember that the diagnosis doesn’t have to define your life, as you can retain much of your functionality and independence with the right treatment.