If you’ve recently switched to a new medication for your relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS), you might be wondering how effective it is. MS is a complicated and individual disease. As a result, treatment is unique to each person. Here’s more about symptoms, how you can tell if your medication is working, and what lifestyle changes might help you feel better.
Symptoms and MS
MS is considered a “silent disease.” After your initial symptoms present, you may not have notable relapse symptoms even when new lesions form in your brain and spinal cord. In other words, you could be feeling well, but MS continues to damage your central nervous system (CNS).
Common symptoms of MS include:
- bladder and bowel problems
- dizziness and vertigo
- emotional changes
- sexual issues
- walking difficulties
Even once you’re on medication, your symptoms after an attack may or may not get better. You may also experience unpleasant side effects from your medications.
Is my medication working?
It’s hard to know on the surface if your new medication is working. Even after taking the medication, you may feel little or no change in your original symptoms. In many cases, this is normal and not necessarily a reason for concern.
Regardless, taking your medication is an effective way to control the underlying inflammation and neurodegeneration caused by MS. Your medication may not fix your current symptoms. That’s because it is meant to prevent further damage to your nervous system and to prevent new symptoms from arising.
What’s one of the best ways to tell if my medication is working?
If you’ve been taking your medication for a while, ask yourself if you have noticed fewer relapses than before. Or maybe your relapses have been less severe than before. Either of these situations might indicate that your new medication is indeed effective.
Your doctor will also be monitoring your health closely and may be able to provide you with some answers through testing.
How will my doctor monitor my treatment?
There’s no special tool doctors can use to assess your specific MS levels. Letting your doctor know about your symptoms, and if they’re getting better or worse, is an important part of the process. There are also medical tests that can identify markers associated with MS and visualize lesions in your brain and spinal cord.
Your doctor will work with you to assess the extent of your disease and its progression. MRI is one of the best tests to track relapses for people with RRMS. With an MRI, your doctor can see areas of inflammation, which helps to confirm relapses even if you don’t have symptoms.
To determine if your current medication is working, you and your doctor might also consider the following scenarios:
- If your MRI suggests that the disease is stable and your symptoms are under control, your medicine is likely working effectively.
- If your symptoms have stayed relatively the same but your MRI shows new lesions, your doctor may suggest new treatment.
- If your MS is active or seems to be getting worse, your doctor may want to look into more aggressive treatment options.
What if my medication isn’t working?
Speak with your doctor right away if you don’t think your medication is working or if you’re noticing that your symptoms are getting progressively worse. Stay on your medication unless otherwise instructed. Stopping medication without medical guidance is dangerous and can be potentially harmful to your health.
You may want to ask the following questions at your appointment:
- Are the doses and directions on my medication correct?
- Could there be any drug interactions between my MS medication and other over-the-counter or prescription drugs I’m taking?
- Should I take time off from any of my MS drugs?
- I’m having different side effects. Could these be from my new medication?
- I’m having problems swallowing or injecting my medication or remembering my drug schedule. Could this be affecting my results?
One reason medications aren’t effective is if they are used incorrectly. Some medications should be discontinued occasionally so your body can rest and your doctor can see if the benefits have already peaked.
Other treatment options and lifestyle
Along with medication, you may want to explore other options to manage your disease. You may benefit from what is called restorative rehabilitation. Physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and cognitive remediation specialists are all trained professionals who can help you with issues that affect your thinking and memory, swallowing, mobility, and more.
There are also things you can do at home to ease your MS symptoms:
- Get good sleep and take opportunities to rest when you can.
- Exercise regularly to improve your strength, tone, balance, and coordination. Try walking, swimming, stretching, yoga, and other low impact activities.
- Keep your body cool. MS symptoms can get worse when your temperature rises. Try swimming or using cooling vests and scarves.
- Eat a diet low in saturated fat and high in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Ask your doctor about taking vitamin D supplements. There are some studies that suggest this vitamin can benefit individuals with MS.
- Lower your stress levels the best you can. Stress can be a trigger and make your symptoms worse. Try taking up yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises.
Remember: Symptoms are not always the best indicator of whether or not your MS medication is working.
The treatment for MS is highly individual. What medications you take will depend on your symptoms and unique medical history. Keep the line of communication open with your doctor. That way, you can provide the clearest picture of how your medicines are making you feel and find a treatment plan that works best for you.