It’s important to continue to take your prescribed MS medications even when you’re feeling well. If left untreated, MS will progress faster and cause more damage to your nervous system.
Symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) come and go. You can have periods when symptoms such as fatigue, numbness, and weakness become worse. These are known as flare-ups.
Periods of relapse alternate with symptom-free periods of remission. Relapses are brand-new symptoms that last more than 24 hours. They’re not recurrences of old symptoms, which is a common misconception.
The goal of MS treatment is to slow the progression of the disease and prevent relapses.
You’ll start treatment soon after you receive a diagnosis. Because there’s currently no cure for MS, you’ll probably need to take medication for a long time.
However, new studies offer promising research that suggests it may be safe to stop treatment in your 60s if you don’t have new or worsening disease.
Though MS treatments do not manage the symptoms, as symptomatic medications are designed to do, it’s important to stick with your MS medication.
These drugs help slow the progression of the disease and prevent relapses. So, if you stop taking your medication, you’re more likely to experience a relapse.
Even when you’re feeling well, following your prescribed treatment plan is the best way to avoid long-term problems related to MS.
Here are five reasons it’s necessary to stay on your medication, whether you experience frequent relapses or not.
Some people only ever have one MS relapse. Doctors call this type of MS clinically isolated syndrome (CIS). Not everyone with CIS will go on to develop clinically definite MS, but some likely will.
Even if you’ve had only one episode of symptoms, you’ll need to start treatment if your doctor thinks your condition could progress to MS.
Sticking with your treatment plan can help reduce inflammation in your brain and spinal cord. It can also help delay a second attack and the potential long-term damage that can come with it.
In MS, your immune system misfires and mistakenly attacks the myelin sheath, the coating that surrounds and protects your nerves.
Over time, damage to the myelin sheath can build up and damage the axon (the part of the neuron that the myelin sheath protects). This is referred to as axonal damage.
Continued axonal damage can lead to permanent neuronal loss and cell death.
Medications that treat the underlying cause of MS are called disease-modifying drugs or disease-modifying therapies (DMTs).
These medications help change the course of the disease by preventing your immune system from attacking your nerves. They help stop new MS lesions from forming on your brain and spinal cord.
Treatments for MS can also help reduce the likelihood of a relapse, but they don’t make relapses less severe.
If you stop taking your MS medication, you’re more likely to experience a relapse. And if left untreated, MS can result in more nerve damage and an increase in symptoms.
Starting treatment soon after your diagnosis and sticking with it may also delay the potential progression from relapsing-remitting MS to secondary-progressive MS.
MS symptoms appear as the disease damages your nerves. You might assume that if you feel fine, no damage is happening. But that’s not true.
Under the surface, the disease can continue to destroy the nerves in your brain and spinal cord, even if you don’t experience a single symptom. Any resulting damage might not be reversible.
MS drugs don’t start working overnight, which makes immediate improvement unlikely.
If you’re expecting immediate improvement, this delay may cause feelings of disappointment and even cause you to consider stopping your treatment.
That’s why it’s important to talk with your healthcare team before starting a new treatment therapy. Doing so allows you to get information in advance about how the treatment will work.
Ask your doctor what to expect when you start on a new drug. That way, you’ll know whether a delay in improvement is normal or if your medication isn’t working and you need to try something else.
Just about any medication you take can cause side effects.
Some MS drugs might increase your risk for infection. Others might cause flu-like symptoms or stomach pain. You might experience a skin reaction after injecting certain MS medications.
These side effects aren’t pleasant, but they don’t last forever. Most will go away once you’ve been on the drug for a while. Your doctor can also recommend tips to manage any side effects that you continue to experience.
If the side effects don’t improve, talk with your doctor. They may recommend switching to another medication that’s easier to tolerate.
It’s important that you stay on the MS treatment your doctor prescribes.
Your medication helps prevent new symptoms. If you stop taking it, you may experience an increase in relapses, which could result in more MS-related damage.
It’s also important to note that stopping a DMT doesn’t cause symptoms to recur. But certain triggers, such as heat and stress, can cause a recurrence.
Knowing what your treatment can do for you can help you understand why it’s necessary to stick with treatment long term.
Whenever you start a new drug, ask your doctor what to expect. Find out how long it will take for you to see an improvement, and ask what side effects the drug can cause and how to manage them.
You might also consider joining or reaching out to a support group. Support groups are another place you can get information about your MS medications.
Other people who have MS may be able to provide you with valuable insight about how medications have helped them. They might also share their tips for managing side effects.