Treatments

There is no cure for multiple sclerosis (MS), so treating it mainly focuses on slowing down the progression of the disease, while managing symptoms. Disease progression and symptoms range greatly from person to person, so work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan that is right for you.

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Doctor’s Whiteboard: Don’t Let MS Slow You Down (Video Transcript)

Multiple Sclerosis is a complicated and often misunderstood condition, and if you or a loved one is dealing MS, then you probably have a lot of unanswered questions about how this disease may impact your life.

MS affects the central nervous system, making it sometimes difficult for the brain to send and receive messages from the body. Some people may experience fatigue or dizziness while others may experience issues with eyesight or sensitivity. There are actually a vast number of symptoms associated with MS, and everyone’s experience is unique.

The most common form of MS is called “relapsing-remitting,” where the symptoms periodically come and go. But MS is a progressive disease, and the severity of symptoms often increase over time and can eventually affect a person’s ability to work, study, or be as active as they would like.

The good news is that doctors have more tools than ever to help treat MS. And along with treatment, changing your exercise habits and diet can help keep symptoms under control.

When MS flairs up, your doctor may prescribe medications to treat specific symptoms, such as pain or weakness. Your treatment may also include medications that target the underlying causes of MS. These treatments help prevent the disease from damaging nerves and can help many patients remain symptom-free for extended periods of time.

Regular exercise, such as indoor or outdoor cycling, yoga, and strength training, has been shown to help ease MS symptoms as well as combat fatigue and depression. Watching your diet and maintaining an optimal body weight are also important in promoting mobility and easing strain on muscles and joints.

The most important things you can do to take control of your MS are, first, sticking with your treatment plan and, second, not letting MS define you or get you down. Treating MS early, working with your doctor, and staying active are key to maintaining the best quality of life.

If you’re interested in knowing more about treating Multiple Sclerosis, take a look at the information we have here at Healthline or make an appointment with your doctor.

Disease-Modifying Drugs

Disease-modifying medicines can reduce the frequency and severity of relapses. They also can control the growth of lesions and reduce symptoms. There are currently several drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration for modifying MS.

The injectable medications currently approved are:

  • interferon beta-1a (Avonex, Rebif)
  • interferon beta-1b (Betaseron, Extavia)
  • glatiramer acetate (Copaxone)
  • pegylated interferon beta-1a (Plegridy)

There are three therapies that must be given by infusion at a licensed clinic:

  • natalizumab (Tysabri)
  • mitoxantrone (Novantrone)
  • alemtuzumab (Lemtrada) 

There are also three oral treatments you take as a pill:

  • teriflunomide (Aubagio)
  • fingolimod (Gilenya)
  • dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera)

Medications to Treat Relapses

Experiencing a relapse is discouraging, so ending it as quickly as possible benefits both the body and the mind. Inflammation is a key feature of MS relapses, and it can lead to many of the secondary symptoms. Corticosteroids are often used to ease inflammation and reduce the severity of attacks. Corticosteroids used to treat MS include methylprednisolone (intravenous) and prednisone (oral). ACTH (H.P. Acthar Gel) may be prescribed if corticosteroids did not provide relief, or if intravenous treatments can’t be used.

Learn seven tips for beating MS fatigue »

Medications for Physical Symptoms

Muscle relaxants are often suggested for people with MS. That's because relaxing muscles helps with the very common MS symptoms of pain, spasms, and fatigue. Relieving those symptoms can also help with depression. Drugs for muscle stiffness include:

  • baclofen (Lioresal)
  • cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril)
  • diazepam (Valium)
  • tizanidine (Zanaflex)

Drugs used to treat fatigue may include amantadine hydrochloride (Symmetrel) and modafinil (Provigil). Fluoxetine (Prozac) is also often prescribed, since it helps combat both fatigue and depression.

There are more than a dozen prescription medications for bladder problems (like incontinence) related to MS. The most efficient medicines for constipation and bowel symptoms associated with MS seem to be over-the-counter stool softeners.

Physical Therapy and Exercise

Fatigue plays a big role in the life of people with MS. When you’re tired, you just don’t feel like exercising. Unfortunately, the less exercise you get, the more tired you feel. That’s why physical therapy (PT) and exercise need to be carefully tailored to MS patients. Things like keeping session times short and increasing exercise over time are important factors.

When should an MS patient seek out PT? Certainly during a relapse that has produced a change in functions like walking, coordination, strength, or energy. The goal of PT during relapse is to return to a prior level of function, if possible.

A PT program addressing disease progression may consist of professional services along with self-care activities such as a home exercise program, aqua-therapy, or a personal fitness program at a gym or health club. Getting out of the house to exercise can also help address the depression and social isolation that plagues MS patients.

Constant movement and activity is absolutely critical to fighting MS. As you build and modify your MS exercise routine, make sure you include basic stretches you can do sitting or from bed. When you feel comfortable with those exercises, add more demanding exercises like walking, water exercise, or dancing. Anything you can do with others, especially exercise you really enjoy, will help.

Managing Emotion in the Midst of Change

People with MS are faced with a constantly changing illness. This creates a painfully difficult emotional state. You might feel depression, grief, emotional instability, and anger — perhaps all in the same day.

Keeping cool when you have MS calls for creative solutions. Antidepressants very often are helpful, but they are also usually not enough. And while talk therapy with a licensed practitioner is a very good idea, you may need help from someone who has a more personal understanding of MS. Look to your local MS Society for education, counseling references, and support groups. Find people who know that you are more than your disease and keep a positive outlook. We don’t have a cure yet, but thousands are working every day to improve the quality of life for MS patients.