Q: I am newly diagnosed and am confused about how long an MS attack is supposed to last. I seem to have some symptoms that come and go, depending on the week, but others that have been persistent for the past 8 months (numbness in legs, fatigue, muscle spasms). I know that everyone’s MS is different, but I am not sure what to expect.
A: An MS “attack” or “relapse” is when symptoms arise due to the formation of a new MS plaque in the CNS (central nervous system). Most attacks develop over hours to days, reach a peak and then gradually improve. The very shortest MS attacks last only 24 hours; these are rare. Most attacks take days to weeks to months to improve—the average being six weeks. Confusion occurs because attacks don’t always completely go away. They can leave you with some symptoms (e.g., residual neurological disability) permanently. The attack that seems to be lingering a year later is probably residual disability. Residual symptoms from an attack are often called “chronic symptoms”. Chronic symptoms can wax and wane but tend to be worse when you are tired or sick. Some chronic symptoms like tingling, burning and muscle spasms can be masked somewhat with medications or other means. There are also medications and conservative measures that you can try to combat MS-related fatigue. You can speak with your neurologist about management options if bothersome symptoms don’t seem to be resolving on their own.