Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a recurrent inflammatory disease of the central nervous system, which ultimately causes substantial disability in many patients. A key clinical feature of this disease is the occurrence of relapses, consisting of episodes of neurological dysfunction followed by periods of remission. This review considers in detail the importance of the occurrence of relapses to the ultimate course of MS and the impact of relapse-treatment (both acutely and prophylactically) on the long-term outcome for individuals. The ultimate goal of therapy in MS is the reduction of long-term disability. Clinical trials in MS, however, typically only extend for a very short time period compared to the time it takes for disability to evolve. Consequently, short-term outcome measures that are associated with, and predict, future disability need to be identified. In this regard, not only are relapses a characteristic feature of MS, they have also been proven to be associated with the occurrence of long-term disability. Moreover, treatments that reduce the number and severity of these attacks improve the long-term prognosis.