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Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS) Symptoms

Posted on May 13, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Joseph V. Campellone, M.D.
Article written by
Imee Williams

Living with multiple sclerosis (MS) can be challenging. A person with MS may experience a variety of symptoms — including visual, motor, cognitive, and emotional changes — depending on their MS diagnosis.

The most common form of MS is called relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS). About 70 percent to 80 percent of people who are newly diagnosed with MS have this type. In fact, more than 71,000 MyMSTeam members report having an RRMS diagnosis. Similar to other types of MS, RRMS occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the central nervous system (CNS). It is because of this fact that MS as a whole is often referred to as a disease with an autoimmune component. The CNS is composed of the brain and spinal cord. The hallmark of MS as a disease is that it destroys the myelin, or protective covering, that surrounds the nerve fibers in your body.

Currently, there is no single known cause or cure for RRMS. However, the field of neurology within health care has identified several factors that may play a role in its development.

RRMS is characterized by the appearance of a relapse — an attack, flare-up, or exacerbation of new symptoms or the return of old MS symptoms. Relapses vary in the type, length, and severity of symptoms. Typically, a relapse lasts between 24 and 48 hours, but symptoms of MS can continue for weeks or sometimes months. There are several treatment options to manage RRMS symptoms.

In RRMS, relapses are typically followed by periods of remission. A remission occurs when MS symptoms improve or disappear. During this time, a person living with MS usually does not experience worsening symptoms.

Types of RRMS Symptoms

The CNS controls most bodily functions including vision, awareness, movement, reflexes, sensations, thoughts, speech, and memory. Depending on the location of the inflammatory attack, someone with RRMS may experience a variety of unpredictable and new symptoms. A combination of symptoms is common, but no two individuals have the exact same RRMS symptoms.

Sensory Changes

Vision problems are often the earliest sign of RRMS. However, an individual with RRMS may experience changes in other sensory areas throughout their disease course. In fact, sensory abnormalities and pain are observed in as many as 80 percent of people with MS. Common sensory changes include:

  • Episodes of visual loss in one or both eyes
  • Double vision
  • Eye pain
  • Heat sensitivity on the skin
  • Numbness, especially in the feet
  • Tingling in the arms, legs, back, and head

Motor Symptoms

A large number of people living with MS will experience changes in their motor functions. However, people with RRMS do not typically experience the gradual progression of the disease in mobility or walking often seen in people living with other types of MS. An individual with RRMS may experience the following symptoms:

  • Trouble with balance
  • Lack of coordination
  • Stiff muscles
  • Tight muscles (spasticity)
  • Frequent or urgent urination
  • Bladder problems
  • Bowel problems

Cognitive Changes

Cognitive changes can make daily activities a challenge for some people with RRMS. Symptoms can include memory problems, difficulty thinking clearly, and difficulty processing old or new information.

Emotional Changes

Fatigue is another early sign of RRMS, affecting about 80 percent of people with MS. A person with RRMS may experience mental or physical exhaustion, which can sometimes make daily activities at home or work challenging. RRMS can also cause mood changes such as anxiety or depression.

Recognizing Early Signs of RRMS

Women are two to three times more likely than men to develop RRMS. Additionally, this disease mainly affects young people in their 20s and 30s. However, children and older adults can still develop RRMS. People with RRMS tend to have more newly developed inflammatory brain lesions (plaques or scars) on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

Managing Relapsing RRMS Symptoms

There are many ways to manage RRMS symptoms:

  • Avoid or quit smoking.
  • Avoid very hot or humid places, or situations that cause overheating.
  • Try rehabilitation therapies to help with sensory, motor, and cognitive changes.
  • Speak with a counselor about your depression or anxiety.
  • Implement a healthy lifestyle (diet, exercise, and sleep).

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyMSTeam is the social network for people with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 167,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with multiple sclerosis.

Have you ever experienced relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Joseph V. Campellone, M.D. is board-certified in neurology, neuromuscular disease, and electrodiagnostic medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Imee Williams is a freelance writer and Fulbright scholar, with a B.S. in neuroscience from Washington State University. Learn more about her here.

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