If your doctor has told you that you have a relapsing form of MS, you’re probably wondering what that means for your treatment options and your quality of life now and in the future. The starting point for answering these questions is explaining what is meant by relapsing MS. Of the four disease courses that have been identified in MS, one (relapsing-remitting) is characterized primarily by relapses, and two (progressive-relapsing and secondary-progressive) have both relapsing and progressive characteristics.
- Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS) — the most common disease course — is characterized by clearly defined attacks of worsening neurologic function. These attacks — which are called relapses, flare-ups, or exacerbations — are followed by partial or complete recovery periods (remissions), during which symptoms improve and there is no apparent worsening or progression of disease. Approximately 85% of people with MS are initially diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS.
- Secondary-Progressive MS (SPMS) follows an initial period of relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). As a person transitions from RRMS to SPMS, the disease begins to worsen more steadily, with or without occasional relapses, slight remissions, or plateaus. As long as the person continues to have relapses, the SPMS course is considered to be both progressive and relapsing.
- Progressive-Relapsing MS (PRMS) — the least common disease course — is characterized by steadily worsening disease from the beginning, but with occasional relapses along the way. People with this form of MS may or may not experience some recovery following these attacks, but the disease continues to progress without remissions. PRMS is considered to be both a progressive and a relapsing form of the disease because people experience steady disease progression and relapses.
The fourth course is primary-progressive MS (PPMS).