Multiple sclerosis (MS) isn’t curable, but taking disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) can help reduce the number of MS relapses and slow progression of the disease. Even so, the decision to take a DMT isn’t always easy, especially soon after your diagnosis.

Some people worry about taking medications that can cause side effects when they don’t have any MS symptoms. Plus, MS drugs are expensive. For these and other reasons, one study found that up to 40% of participants with MS stopped taking DMTs within 1 year after starting them.

It’s important to weigh the risks against the benefits of taking any medication. Having a conversation with your doctor about how these medications may impact you can help you make the right treatment decisions moving forward.

There are a few good reasons to stay on your MS treatment. Here are six of them.

Up to 90% of people living with MS have the relapsing-remitting form of the disease. This comes with periods where old symptoms flare up or new symptoms like fatigue, vision changes, and weakness develop. These symptom attacks are followed by symptom-free periods of full or partial recovery, called remission.

Taking DMTs is one way to reduce the number of MS relapses you have. One study found that people who stayed on their medication were 42% less likely to relapse than those who didn’t take their medication as prescribed.

Relapses range from mild symptoms that are barely noticeable to severe symptoms that can disrupt your daily life. You might still experience relapses while taking DMTs, but they’re likely to be less severe. That means that symptoms will be milder and less disruptive to your life.

In MS, the immune system attacks myelin, the insulation that wraps around and protects nerve cells. Without this protective coating, nerve cells become damaged. As a result, nerve signals can’t travel as they normally should from your brain and spinal cord to the rest of your body.

MS is a progressive disease. Damage to the brain and spinal cord builds up over time, even when you don’t have active symptoms. DMTs put the brakes on this damage and slow the progression of the disease.

These drugs work by reducing the inflammation that leads to nervous system damage. As evidence, people who take DMTs have fewer lesions in their brain and spinal cord on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

About 1 in 4 people with MS need to go to the hospital each year, a rate much higher than in the overall population. Relapses are one of the most common reasons for these hospital visits.

Because DMTs slow MS and its damage, they can help keep you out of the hospital.

Research has found that people with MS who take their medications as prescribed are less likely to be hospitalized than those who stop taking DMTs. The risk of a hospital stay is up to 44% lower in people who are on DMTs, depending on the type of medication they take.

Starting treatment early and staying on it could help prevent issues with mobility. People who have a higher number of relapses and more severe symptoms, especially in the first 2 years after diagnosis, are more likely to have worse MS.

A 2021 study analyzed data from a registry of more than 14,000 people with MS. The researchers found that staying on DMT treatment reduced disability by up to 44% and lowered the odds of needing a walking aid like a cane or walker by 67%.

Another study showed that people taking DMTs recover more fully after a relapse. Making a full recovery after each relapse might reduce your risk of MS-related disability in the future.

DMTs are expensive medications. In 2022, the average cost per year for a brand-name drug was nearly $94,000, according to the National MS Society. Even with good health insurance, you may have to cover copayments and other out-of-pocket costs.

Even so, there’s a cost advantage to staying on your medication. Taking a DMT can prevent the types of severe symptoms and disability that might otherwise lead to a costly hospital stay.

According to a 2022 study, people who took their medication regularly for an entire year spent more than $8,500 less in medical costs than those who weren’t consistent about taking their DMT. After 2 years on DMTs, the savings nearly doubled to more than $16,000 for those who stuck to their treatment regimen.

There are reasons to approach DMTs cautiously after an MS diagnosis. These medications can cause side effects, which might worry you — especially if you don’t have any symptoms from MS. Yet there are also many reasons to take them, including lower relapse rates, less severe relapses, and less disability in the long run.

Discuss any concerns about your medication with the doctor who treats your MS. There are ways to manage treatment costs and side effects. Many different DMTs are available today, and there’s a good chance you can find one that’s both affordable and tolerable.