Treatment during a relapse
MS exacerbations or relapses appear with the onset of new symptoms or worsening of previous symptoms that last more than 24 hours and are the result of active destruction of myelin in the brain or spinal cord.
A relapse may cause visual loss, numbness, weakness and a loss of balance or
coordination, and the person with MS may need help from various members
of the healthcare team to regain their function after the relapse, as well as steroid treatment.
Relapses are typically treated with intravenous steriods called methylprednisolone for 3-5 days. The steroids work by shutting down the inflammation that is causing demyelination.
These include a group of pharmacological treatments called immunosuppressants, which work by inhibiting cell division. They target the immune system and do not discriminate between different body systems, so they can be effective for MS but also have a broad range of adverse side effects. They can be useful in for some people with MS, for example in rapidly progressing MS or relapsing-remitting MS with a high relapse rate. A neurologist and the person with MS need to work together to balance the good effects of the drugs against their potential adverse side effects.
The most common immunosuppressants used in MS are azathioprine, cyclophosphamide, methotrexate and mitoxantrone.
For more information, read MS in focus - pharmacological treatments in MS