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Help a Person Having a Relapse

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Updated October 22, 2008

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a complicated and strange disease. About 85 percent of MS patients are first diagnosed with a type of MS called “relapsing-remitting.” In this type, a person may suddenly lose physical abilities (relapse) and then regain them (remit). No one can predict how frequent or severe the relapses may be, or how long the symptoms will last. You can help by providing support, being available and pitching in to help with daily tasks.
Time Required: N/A

Here's How:

  1. Understand What Is Happening

    A multiple sclerosis (MS) relapse can be a scary time for someone with MS. Over a short period of time, a person’s abilities diminish. For instance, on Monday your loved one may notice some tingling in her legs. On Tuesday she may feel off balance from the numbness. By Wednesday she may have difficulty walking.

    The good news is that in the majority of cases, these symptoms will eventually improve greatly, often completely disappearing. High-dose steroid treatment can speed up this process. But for some time, no one will know which symptoms may become permanent and at what severity.

  2. Provide Reassurance

    When your loved one’s body stops functioning normally, it can cause her to have a great deal of anxiety. If she is put on steroids to combat the symptoms of the relapse, a side effect can be even more anxiety. Whatever reassurance you can provide is essential.

    • Phone Calls: Let her know you are available for middle of the night (when the anxiety seems to get worse) phone calls.
    • Reminders: It is easy to forget that anxiety can be a side effect of steroid treatment. Gently remind her of that fact when she seems anxious or upset.
  3. Be Available to Help

    She may need help for a week or two until the relapse subsides.

    • Bring Food: Bringing food will ensure that she eats and removes a burden from her list of daily tasks.
    • Offer to Drive: During a relapse people often experience delayed reaction time do not feel comfortable driving. Offer to take her on errands, to appointments and just out of the house for a change of scenery.
    • Take the Kids: An afternoon of quiet and calm can be invaluable at this time. Take the kids to the park, zoo, or museum and let her just relax and recover.
  4. Stay Available

    The most dramatic symptoms will usually pass soon after the first few doses of steroid treatment. She will probably feel much better. However, symptoms can linger after the steroids wear off. Remember to check in with her – even after the worst is over. She is wondering if there was permanent damage and won’t know for several weeks. Take her for coffee or to lunch and check in. Let her know she can talk to you and that you are not uncomfortable discussing her multiple sclerosis (MS). Sometimes, just talking about fears and pain make them much more manageable.

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