Many medications are used to treat MS, but none of them can claim to cure the disease.
Evidence shows that a healthy lifestyle, including stopping smoking, regular exercise and a nutritious diet can slow the progression and manage MS symptoms, so combining lifestyle changes with medication provides a holistic approach.
How can MS medication help?
MS medications generally reduce the rate of relapses – some only modestly. Those that are most effective at reducing disease activity come with a more significant side effect profile and the need for close monitoring for complications.
Most authorities now recommend MS treatment should begin as soon as possible after diagnosis, with the aim of reducing disease activity at an early stage, therefore minimising the number of relapses, and hopefully also any longer-term disability progression.
Some MS medications are known as disease modifying drugs (DMDs) or disease modifying therapy (DMT). Both terms mean a drug that can in some way alter the course of a disease, either by reducing relapses and in turn aiming to reduce disability progression.
For some of the earlier MS medications (B-interferons and Copaxone), it has been difficult to establish their effect on progression of the disease to disability, although some of the newer drugs do seem to slow the disease course.
We offer some advice and guidance on what to think about when making medication choices. Many people feel anything that may help is worth trying, as long as the side effects aren’t too severe.
What's changing in medication for MS
Take a look at our short illustrated video:
MS medications: Everything you need to know
The following medications are commonly used to treat multiple sclerosis (or have in the past, some have been discontinued).
Follow the links below for more information about these medications, which types of MS they treat, their side effects, action, background and relevant studies.
MS medication side effects
If you read through the accompanying information for any medication you will always see possible side effects listed. However, with MS medications, the side effects can range from mild to severe. As some MS medications can potentially cause harm, your MS team will monitor your health closely with regular blood tests and MRI scans.
Some possible side effects, depending on the medication, include:
Hair loss and nausea
A change to your heart rate
Infusions for MS
Infusion therapies can be used to treat MS relapses that don’t respond to corticosteroids. Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) via a drip helps to boost your immune system and plasmapheresis filters your blood to remove damaging antibodies after which the ‘clean’ blood is put back into your body through a blood transfusion.
The following disease modifying drugs are also given intravenously:
Ocrelizumab (Ocrevus) — you receive this drug in two doses separated by two weeks at first, then you have infusions every six months. It is the first drug to be approved for primary progressive MS (PPMS) and targets damage-causing B lymphocytes.
Alemtuzumab (Lemtrada) — given once a day for five days, then you receive it again over three days, 12 months later. The drug reduces your white blood cells to reduce damage to nerve cells and inflammation (specifically reducing the number of T and B lymphocytes).
Natalizumab (Tysabri) — you receive this drug once a month. It stops immune cells from entering your spinal cord and brain and causing damage.
As with all medication there are possible side effects for each drug including reactions like nausea or fatigue. The side effects also include health issues as a direct result of the infusion process itself including skin reactions, chills, and bruising and bleeding at the injection site. There are also serious side effects which include potentially life-threatening instances of organ failure and cancer, depending on the drug being received. Like with any medicine, it is administered to help you, but it is vital that you know and understand all the risks involved.