Deciding to start MS treatment can be difficult. Your symptoms may be so mild that you feel you don’t need treatment. Or, you may worry about the side effects and risks that come with treatment. Of course, getting a proper diagnosis can take months or years, leading to no choice to begin treatment early.
But starting treatment early can have a positive impact on the way your disease progresses.
MS is a progressive inflammatory disorder that affects the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve. MS can cause numerous symptoms that vary from person to person, so it’s a difficult disease to diagnose. Symptoms are often mistaken for other illnesses or conditions.
Some people experience what’s called clinically isolated syndrome (CIS), a single attack of symptoms followed by no other symptoms for years. Not everyone who experiences CIS goes on to develop MS.
There’s no specific test for diagnosing MS. According to the National MS Society, in order to make an MS diagnosis your doctor should:
- Find evidence of damage in at least two areas of the central nervous system.
- Find evidence that the damaged occurred at least one month apart.
Your doctor should also rule out all other possible diagnoses.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used to look for lesions on the central nervous system. But since lesions don’t always cause symptoms, a person can have them for years without knowing.
The Benefits of Early Treatment
Disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) are used to treat MS. These drugs slow the progression of MS by limiting the frequency and severity of relapses, which results in less neurological damage. Experts recommend starting one of the eleven DMTs approved by the Food and Drug Administration as soon as a diagnosis is made.
A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience Nursing, found that patients with MS or CIS benefit from starting treatment the first time they experience an event suggestive of MS.
Other research has found that delays in treatment, even in those with CIS, may result in more severe disability and a poorer response to treatment with DMTs later on.
DMTs aren’t a cure. They work to prevent further relapses and damage that accumulates with each attack. As the disease progresses, DMTs become less effective. Starting treatment early is considered your best bet for successfully treating MS in order to limit the inflammation and damage, and ultimately delay long-term disability.
Along with DMTs, doctors can prescribe medications to reduce the symptoms of MS, including:
- loss of balance
- vision disturbance or vision loss in one eye
- bladder and bowel control problems
- sexual dysfunction
- extreme fatigue
- depression and anxiety
Physical activity and healthier choices, such as a nutritious diet and quitting smoking, can also help you manage your MS.
Starting treatment early gives you the best chance at slowing the progression of MS. It reduces the inflammation and damage to the nerve cells, which cause your disease to worsen. Early treatment with DMTs and other therapies for symptom management can also reduce your pain and help you better cope with your new diagnosis.
Pushing for a proper diagnosis for your symptoms as well as for early treatment is crucial for giving yourself the best chance at living well with MS.