How are MS relapses treated?

Unfortunately, you can't stop a relapse in its tracks. However, drug treatment can make a relapse shorter and less severe. Relapses are usually treated with a group of medications known as corticosteroids. Some corticosteroids, such as methylprednisolone, are given by injection. Others, such as prednisone, are given by mouth. High doses are used. Treatment schedules vary, but usually treatment lasts for about four days.

Corticosteroid medications work by reducing inflammation, including inflammation within the brain. This reduction in inflammation helps relieve symptoms and shortens the relapse time. Unfortunately, corticosteroid treatment does not stop the relapse right away or change the course of the disease.

Like any drug treatment, corticosteroids may have side effects. Short-term side effects include mood changes, blurred vision, difficulty sleeping, a metallic taste in the mouth, upset stomach, and, in rare cases, psychosis. There are also long-term side effects, which can be a concern for people who need frequent corticosteroid treatment (such as people who often have relapses). Long-term side effects include osteoporosis, increased risk of infection, stomach ulcers, cataracts, and diabetes.

Another treatment, called plasmapheresis, may sometimes be used in cases where corticosteroids are not effective. In this treatment, a person's blood is removed and the liquid portion (plasma) is separated out. The plasma is replaced with fresh liquid and added back to the blood, which is then put back into the person's bloodstream. This theory is that the plasma contains molecules produced by the immune system. These molecules are believed to be involved in causing the relapse, so removing these molecules from the plasma should help to treat the relapse. Plasmapheresis is not yet universally accepted as a treatment; some studies have shown that it helps relapses, while others have shown no benefits.

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