Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) is typically treated with a class of drugs called disease-modifying therapies (DMTs). These medications have three primary purposes:
- to slow the rate of RRMS progression and disability
- to decrease the number of RRMS “attacks,” or relapses
- to stop new lesions from forming throughout the central nervous system (the brain and spine in particular)
Despite the promise of DMTs, many have to switch their medications from time to time. This could be due to worsening or lack of improvement in your symptoms. Your doctor may even recommend new treatments if an MRI shows that your RRMS is progressing.
Still, switching RRMS medications is easier said than done. Keep the following three tips in mind to help ensure the transition is as safe and effective as possible.
1. Be sure you understand all changes concerning your meds
Switching DMTs can involve a whole new routine. If you started with a first-line DMT, you’ll likely move up to a second- or third-line medication if the former didn’t work. This means that you’ll be taking more moderate amounts of the particular medication. Understanding these dosage changes are important in making sure you take the correct amounts.
In addition, DMTs come in different forms. While some are given via infusion at a doctor’s office, others are taken orally or by injection at home.
Before leaving your appointment, be sure that you fully understand all new medication instructions. You might also get these in writing for future reference.
2. Complement your new medications with self-care
Self-care is a crucial component for your overall comfort and well-being — especially when dealing with RRMS attacks. This is perhaps even more important when you switch medications, as it can make the transition a bit easier.
Those with RRMS are often told that a healthy lifestyle can help manage their symptoms. However, having a healthy lifestyle is far more complex than simply getting healthy.
In terms of self-care, you can start by eating nutritious foods and taking short, daily walks. A walking companion may be especially helpful if the fear of getting hurt is holding you back from exercise.
Adequate sleep is also crucial for self-care. If you’re sleep-deprived, it may be difficult to tell whether your fatigue is directly related to medication side effects, an RRMS attack, or a general lack of sleep.
Self-care is also dependent on your mental and emotional well-being. Yoga and tai chi can offer stress relief while building strength and coordination. These low-impact exercises can also be modified for RRMS. Meditation is another great tool to improve your overall mood and outlook.
Additionally, self-care involves going to all of your follow-up appointments. This helps to ensure that your new RRMS medication is working.
Finally, tracking your pain is another form of self-care often overlooked. Keeping a diary of your symptoms can be helpful in detecting patterns. You can also make note of triggers, such as stress or the weather. Take this diary to your next appointment — it will help your doctor see whether your new medication is working as it ought to.
3. Carefully monitor your symptoms
It’s also important to be on the lookout for potential side effects from your new medications. Side effects can vary by individual, but they’re a real possibility. The National MS Society reports that 2 percent of users during clinical trials experienced all potential side effects. Your doctor can help you weigh the pros and cons associated with each type of DMT.
Common side effects include:
- allergic-like reactions (particularly with injectable DMTs)
- flu-like symptoms
- hair thinning
More serious side effects include decreased white or red blood cells, increased blood pressure, and infection. These are less common, though.
As a rule of thumb, it’s best to report any changes in symptoms as you transition to another RRMS medication.
Changing medications for RRMS can end up being a trial-and-error process. However, with time and patience, you’ll likely find the right treatment plan. Continue working with your doctor until you find what works for you. In the meantime, be sure to report any new or worsening symptoms, as well as potential side effects.