Is This a Relapse?

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Posted By Scott

What’s that coming over the hill is it a relapse?  Is it a relapse?  I’d like to thank The Automatic for writing a song all about the possibility of MS symptoms being a relapse.  I’ve been asking myself this question over the last two weeks.

I’m writing this on the third anniversary of going to hospital for what was eventually diagnosed as MS.  The various MS websites describe three variations of the conditions:  Relapsing remitting, primary progressive and secondary progressive.   However in my case, none of these has been explicitly stated to me. 

Some History

My initial diagnosis was an “unusual presentation of MS”.  Further to this, it was suggested it was “tumefactive MS”.  Looking at Dr Google, there are very few references to this MS variant and what it entails.  However it may explain why my initial diagnosis took a while as initial suggestions of a brain tumour were investigated.

Anyway, three years down the line I’ve not had anything the seems like a relapse.  This could be the Lemtrada doing its thing and keeping the disease at bay.  Which is good.  On the other hand, what actually is a relapse, and how will I know if I’m having one?  At the moment I don’t have events with which to compare, other than the initial incident that led to my diagnosis.

On a recent Monday morning, I wondered if the first relapse had finally caught up with me. 


The day began innocuously enough.  I was up and about, and at my desk for the first Teams meeting of the week.  Half an hour later, the meeting concluded, and I went to stand up.  Except I couldn’t.  At least not easily.  My lower back was stiff, almost as if I was locked into position.  I had to climb up myself to stand straight.  I walked around the house and did some stretches before returning to my desk.

When I got up again an hour or so later, the same thing, only much worse and I actually let out a yelp.  A quick message to my manger to say I would need to take the rest of the day off. 

All of this was very similar to my initial incident.  From a timing perspective it was almost three years to the day.  By Tuesday, I was struggling to get out of bed without a great deal of effort and a great deal of swearing. 

Call the Doctor

I called my MS nurse and described the symptoms and how they came on.  To my relief, I was told that this didn’t sound like a relapse, but my nurse would check with my neurologist and come back to me.  A few days later, a call confirmed the initial thought.

Ok, so it’s not relapse.  That was the good news.  The bad news was I still couldn’t move and practically had to crawl to the bathroom.  By Thursday I had to call my GP and after a phone consultation, he came out to see me.  After some tests, which also suggested it was not a neurological condition, he prescribed some strong painkillers to try and help me get up and stretch a bit to reduce the stiffness.  The belief is it was a severe back spasm.

I’ve had dihydrocodeine before, when I was in hospital during the initial diagnosis, so I sort of knew what to expect.  Surprisingly they didn’t knock me out like they did three years ago.  They provided some relief to a point where I could stand without cursing but that was about it.

All in all, it took nine days before I could really move again and start stretching.  Another five days passed before I would say things felt back to normal, so it was quite a marathon.

Lessons from the Week

What can I take from this?  Well, I still haven’t had a relapse, so I still don’t have that benchmark.  That in itself is a good thing, the longer I go without relapses, the better.  Undoubtedly it caused me some stress as well as the physical pain but in talking with my MS nurse, it felt like I did the right thing.  Get rest, contact the MS team, contact my GP.  I’ve also added some additional stretching to my day, to try and keep my back, legs and hips flexible.  Although I’m still active between running, walking and martial arts, returning to full time work has meant a lot more time spent at a desk.

As always, I believe it is important to monitor symptoms so that any significant changes can be reported.  Hopefully this was a bit of a blip and the similarity to my initial incident as purely coincidental, as all good movie credits say.  In the meantime, long may this stretch without a relapse continue, preferably without any more back spasms interrupting things.

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