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What is Relapsing MS?

Relapsing multiple sclerosis (RMS) is most commonly known as a disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS), but it also involves another biological system—the immune system.1

Understanding the immune system

The immune system is a network of diverse cells, molecules, and organs in the body. It consists of unique types of cells and proteins designed to identify and destroy infectious organisms and other invaders and incorrectly functioning cells. In MS, for reasons that are not fully understood, the immune system does not distinguish between self and non-self.2

Why is the immune system important in MS?

  • In order to understand how MS works, it is important to learn about the function of the immune system
  • MS is a chronic, immune-mediated disease—ie, the immune system abnormally targets and attacks parts of the brain and spinal cord
  • MS symptoms manifest in highly individual ways

In relapsing MS, confused—or inflammatory—T cells attack the myelin that protects the axons, or nerve tissue, in the CNS.3

See below for more details.

A diagram about the autoimmune response to multiple sclerosis

A person diagnosed with relapsing MS has experienced at least 2 attacks (called relapses) of relapsing MS-like symptoms and has brain lesions consistent with relapsing MS.4,5

Healthy neurons

  • The brain and spinal cord are made up of cells called neurons6
  • Neurons send signals through the CNS to other parts of the body along nerve fibers called axons6
  • These signals control physical functions like balance and muscle coordination, as well as memory and other cognitive abilities7

Healthy neurons

A diagram showing how healthy neurons work

Damaged neurons

In relapsing MS, confused—or inflammatory—immune cells attack the myelin in your CNS. Myelin is a soft white coating that surrounds and protects the axons in your CNS and helps the axons conduct electrical impulses, or signals.6

The attack on myelin results in scar tissue called scleroses (lesions) and disrupts the body’s ability to send signals from one part of the CNS to another, causing relapsing MS symptoms.3,6

Damaged neurons

A diagram depicting damaged neurons

Quick facts about relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS)8,9

  • The most common form of MS, which affects approximately 85% of people with MS
  • Two or more attacks, called relapses, are usually followed by partial or complete recovery
  • Symptoms may be inactive for months or even years

What is clinically isolated syndrome (CIS)?10

A person diagnosed with CIS, which is considered a relapsing form of MS, may have experienced only 1 attack, or event, of relapsing MS-like symptoms and may have brain lesions consistent with relapsing MS. A person with CIS may be at a higher risk of developing relapsing-remitting MS.

Why is it important to treat CIS?

Clinical studies with large numbers of participants have shown that treatment following a diagnosis of CIS can delay a second attack, thereby delaying the diagnosis of clinically definite relapsing MS. The positive results of these studies support the importance of treating CIS.11

There are some relapsing MS therapies that are approved for use in CIS to delay a second attack.10,12-16 Starting treatment at an early stage and continuing treatment with an approved relapsing MS therapy can reduce relapses and may help reduce future damage from the outset.10

A graph showing early versus later start to therapy for relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) recommendation

Consider starting treatment with an approved therapy as soon as possible after a diagnosis of relapsing MS, or after a first attack, for people at high risk of developing MS.16

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