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.

Diagnosing MS

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:

  • pain
  • numbness
  • tingling
  • spasticity
  • 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.

Conclusion

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.

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Break It Down: Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a condition that affects approximately 400,000 Americans. Thankfully, the majority of people with MS have the same life expectancy as persons without the condition. However, they can have a variety of manifestations that impact their quality of life.

MS is an autoimmune disorder that affects the central nervous system, including the brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord.

Multiple sclerosis causes an attack on myelin, a substance that enables signal transmission along the nerves. Scar tissue creates gaps in functional myelin. This affects how messages are transmitted within the brain or along the nerves.

This scarring, or sclerosis, can manifest in different ways, and these effects can change over time, so there may not be a constant pattern of symptoms with MS. The most common symptoms are numbness and tingling in hands and feet, vision problems, poor balance, limited mobility, lack of concentration, and slurred speech.

These symptoms often go through periods of relapse or remissions. Sometimes there aren’t typical outward signs of the disease, so MS is often called a “silent disease.”

Relapsing-remitting MS is a form of the condition characterized by defined periods of relapse and remission without progression. About 85 percent of all patients are initially diagnosed with this form of MS before beginning treatment.

While there is no cure for MS, recent advances have led to effective therapies that can help MS patients manage their symptoms. Disease-modifying drugs work to change your body’s immune response. These treatments are available as oral medications or injections, prescribed by a medical professional. Other medications that are sometimes recommended to MS patients to ease symptoms include muscle relaxants or corticosteroids, the latter to reduce inflammation.

Because MS can be a challenging disease physically and mentally, drug therapy is often supplemented by physical and emotional support from trained therapists.

The key to successfully treating MS involves working closely with your doctor and other specialists. Medications, therapy, and proper lifestyle choices can help ensure that MS remains only a part of your life, not the determining factor of how you should live it.