Treating relapse-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) is an ongoing process. What medications you take will depend on your symptoms and your medical history. While one medication may help you feel better at one point in time, you may also develop new symptoms that require new treatment or you may experience a relapse. Switching treatments to respond to these changes can help you feel better and may prevent the disease from doing further damage.
Contact your doctor if you suspect your current medication is no longer working or you’re experiencing new symptoms or a relapse. Your doctor can help you navigate the options and offer guidance for your next steps in treatment. Here are eight questions you might consider asking at your appointment.
1. Is what I’m experiencing a true relapse?
You may not need to change your medication just yet. To be considered a “true” relapse, your attack must last at least 24 hours and happen at least 30 days after your last attack. Relapses can last from just a few days up to several weeks or months.
2. Does my relapse require new treatment?
Some attacks don’t require a change in medications. You may experience fatigue or other mild sensory changes, like numbness, that don’t have a large impact on your everyday life. These symptoms may get better on their own without additional or changed treatment.
If the symptoms you’re experiencing have a major impact on your daily activities — vision loss, weakness, or poor balance — there are options available to you. Your doctor can prescribe high-dose corticosteroids, for example, to reduce inflammation and end your relapse more quickly.
3. Would changing the dose of my current medication help?
Taking medication over a long period of time may lead to the best success. Before switching treatments, you should make sure that you’re currently taking your medication as it’s prescribed. Your doctor can determine if you’re taking your medication properly, or offer a new dosage that may work better for you.
4. What about my side effects?
If side effects are the main reason you’d like to switch medications, let your doctor know. There may be other things you can do to manage and cope with side effects while staying on your current medication.
On the other hand, don’t ignore side effects. Even side effects that don’t produce many symptoms can be serious and need medical attention. Catch issues early by keeping up with all blood tests and other periodic tests requested by your doctor.
5. What complementary or alternative medicines might help me?
You may have heard that a certain herb or supplement can improve your symptoms. Discuss any complementary or alternative medicines (CAMs) you would like to take with your doctor. Most CAM treatments don’t have studies behind them and could do more harm than good. They may also not have approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Alternative treatments shouldn’t be used in place of conventional therapy. That said, acupuncture and stress management can be good complements to your medicines and have some scientific backing. Ask your doctor about modifications to your diet and exercise routines as well. For example, stretching exercises may give you better mobility.
6. I have other medical conditions. What is the best treatment to address them together?
It isn’t uncommon to have MS and another medical condition at the same time. Tell your doctor about all the conditions you have, including any medications you’re using to treat them.
Taking different drugs together can be harmful. Your doctor or a pharmacist can determine if the prescription or over-the-counter medications you’re taking will interfere with one another.
7. Are there less expensive medications I can take?
If you’re concerned about the cost of your medication, tell your doctor. There may be generic forms of your medication that will cost less while allowing you to stay on the same formula.
8. What other modes of therapy can help with the disease?
Medication isn’t your only option for managing MS. Physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and cognitive remediation specialists can help with what is called restorative rehabilitation. These trained professionals focus on anything from personal care to speech issues to your overall fitness.
Communication is key to tailoring your MS treatments and managing the disease. Let your doctor know about changes to your symptoms and any other specifics about your health that may help improve your treatment plan. Keeping a diary of this information and writing down questions to ask is an easy way to ensure nothing gets left out of the discussion.