What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. MS attacks your nerves and destroys the protective coating, called myelin. If left untreated, MS can eventually destroy all of the myelin surrounding your nerves. Then it may start to harm the nerves themselves.

Nerve damage delays the communication relay between your brain and the rest of your body. This can cause fatigue, slurred speech, and numbness or weakness in one side of your body. These symptoms may come and go. Periods where you have symptoms are called flares.

Currently, there’s no cure for MS. In some cases, treatment can slow the pace of MS. Treatment can also help ease symptoms and reverse some of the damage done by MS flares. Different classes of drugs can control or treat different aspects of the disease. For instance, corticosteroids are used to reduce nerve inflammation and to prevent future MS attacks.

However, once an attack has started, you may need another type of medication called disease modifiers. Disease modifiers can change how the disease behaves. They can also help slow the progression of MS and reduce flare-ups. One type of disease-modifying therapy is infused medication. These infusion treatments are becoming more widely used to treat MS. They may be especially helpful to people with aggressive or advanced MS.

Infusion treatment drugs


How are infusion treatments given?


These drugs are injected intravenously. This means you receive it through your vein. However, you don’t inject these medications yourself. You can only receive these drugs from a healthcare provider in a healthcare facility.

Healthline Medical TeamAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

Alemtuzumab (Lemtrada)

Doctors give alemtuzumab (Lemtrada) to people who have not responded well to at least two other MS medications. This drug works by slowly reducing the number of white blood cells called T and B lymphocytes in your body. This action may reduce inflammation and damage to nerve cells.

You receive this drug once per day for five days. Then, 12 months after your first treatment, you receive it again for five more days.

Natalizumab (Tysabri)

Natalizumab (Tysabri) works by stopping the damaging immune cells from entering your brain and spinal cord. You receive this drug once every four weeks.

Learn more: Promising new treatments for MS »

Mitoxantrone (Novantrone)

Mitoxantrone (Novantrone) is an MS infusion treatment. It’s also a chemotherapy drug used to treat cancer. It may work best for people with secondary-progressive MS or rapidly worsening MS. That’s because it’s an immunosuppressant. That means it works to stop your immune system’s reaction to the MS attacks. This effect can lessen your symptoms of an MS flare.

You receive this drug once every 3 months.

Side effects

The infusion process and each drug each have their own side effects.

Infusion process

Side effects from the infusion process can include:

  • bruising or bleeding at the injection site
  • flushing (reddening and warming of your skin)
  • chills
  • nausea

You can also have an infusion reaction. This is a reaction to the drug on your skin. Symptoms can include:

  • hives
  • scaly patches on your skin
  • warmness
  • rash

Alemtuzumab (Lemtrada)

The more common side effects of this drug can include:

  • rash
  • headache
  • fever
  • common cold
  • nausea
  • urinary tract infection
  • fatigue

This drug can also cause very serious side effects. These may be fatal. They can include:

  • autoimmune reactions, such as Stevens-Johnson syndrome and organ failure
  • cancer

Natalizumab (Tysabri)

The more common side effects of this drug can include:

  • infections
  • allergic reactions
  • headache
  • fatiguespo

Serious side effects can include:

  • a deadly brain infection called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy
  • liver problems, with symptoms such as:
    • yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes
    • dark or brown (tea-colored) urine
    • pain in the upper right side of your abdomen
    • bleeding or bruising that occurs more easily than normal
    • tiredness

Mitoxantrone (Novantrone)

The more common side effects of this drug can include:

  • low white blood cell levels (may increase your risk of infections)
  • depression
  • bone pain
  • vomiting
  • hair loss
  • urinary tract infection
  • amenorrhea, or a loss of menstrual periods

Serious side effects can include:

  • congestive heart failure
  • kidney failure

Receiving too much of this drugs puts you at risk of side effects that can be very toxic to your body. These include congestive heart failure, kidney failure, or blood issues. Your doctor will watch you very closely for signs of side effects during treatment with this drug.

Talk with your doctor

If you have MS, work with your doctor to find a treatment plan that works for you. Infusion treatments might be a good option to help treat your MS symptoms and flares. However, these drugs aren’t right for everyone. They carry risks of rare but serious complications. Still, people have found these treatments helpful. If you have progressive MS or are looking for a better way to manage your symptoms, ask your doctor about infusion treatments.