Disease-modifying drugs (DMDs) for multiple sclerosis (MS) are designed to reduce the number of relapses. In some people with MS they can also help with symptoms. DMDs shouldn’t be confused with drugs that specifically target certain symptoms. If you have MS, it’s important to understand the benefits and risks of DMDs before taking them.

Benefits of DMDs

There are three main benefits to taking DMDs:

  • First, DMDs help shorten the time of relapses.
  • Second, because of the shorter relapse time, DMDs can help those with MS have a better quality of life.
  • Third, DMDs may have long-term benefits by helping to avoid other disabilities down the road.

Besides these benefits, some people also notice that their symptoms seem to improve while taking DMDs.

Side Effects of DMDs

People taking DMDs can experience a range of side effects. Currently, every available DMD on the market has side effects. These side effects are usually temporary, but may include:

  • flu-like symptoms (including chills and fever)
  • rashes
  • headaches
  • muscle aches
  • fatigue

Most people can continue taking the DMD they were first prescribed for years. However, some people eventually find that the DMD doesn’t shorten relapse time like it first did. If this happens, or if your relapses worsen, your doctor may recommend another DMD.

When to Start DMDs

According to the National Institutes of Health, MS approved drugs work best when given early. Clinical trials have also proven that delaying DMDs for even one or two years might lead to a long-term disability later on. Research has also shown that DMDs are a good course of action for those with even mild forms of MS.

Being treated after the first MS attack has two benefits: People taking DMDs show fewer lesions in the brain and they experience fewer relapses of MS.

Of course, an accurate MS diagnosis is important and doctors shouldn’t prescribe a medication if it isn’t needed. Tests, including MRI scans, can be used to confirm an MS diagnosis. Still, some doctors who are concerned about the side effects decide to wait before prescribing DMDs.

Improvements and Research

DMDs have improved since they were first approved for use in the United States in 1993. The medications are able to lessen relapses and shorten the time of relapses.

Still, researchers around the world today are trying to make DMDs even better. Although there currently isn’t a cure for MS, research shows there’s hope for a future solution to MS.