MS Treatment

When it comes to multiple sclerosis (MS), there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Instead, treatment focuses on managing your disease course, symptoms, and relapses. It also is important to do what you can to maintain your physical function. There is currently no cure for MS, so managing your condition and your mental health to live your best life is the best course of action.1

Some of the most common treatments for MS include disease-modifying therapies (DMTs), symptom-management therapies, and rehabilitation therapies. DMTs help prevent relapses and may slow the progression of MS. Symptom-management and rehabilitation therapies help you maintain your physical and mental function. Work with your doctor to find the best treatment plan for you.1

Managing the course of MS

DMTs can reduce the number and severity of new symptoms in people with MS. They also can slow the damage to the brain and spinal cord caused by MS. In turn, DMTs slow down the progression of a person's disability. There are several DMTs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating MS.2

Injected DMT treatments

  • AvonexⓇ (interferon beta-1a)
  • BetaseronⓇ (interferon beta-1b)
  • CopaxoneⓇ (glatiramer acetate)
  • ExtaviaⓇ (interferon beta-1b)
  • GlatopaⓇ (glatiramer acetate)
  • KesimptaⓇ (fingolimod)
  • PlegridyⓇ (pegylated interferon beta-1a)
  • RebifⓇ (interferon beta-1a)

Oral DMT treatments

  • AubagioⓇ (terlflunomide)
  • BafiertamTM (monomethyl fumarate)
  • GilenyaⓇ (finglolimod)
  • MavencladⓇ (cladribine)
  • MayzentⓇ (siponimod)
  • PonvoryTM (ponesimod)
  • TecfideraⓇ (dimethyl fumarate)
  • VumerityⓇ (diroximel fumarate)
  • ZeposiaⓇ (ozanimod)

Intravenous (IV) DMT treatments

  • LemtradaⓇ (alemtuzumab)
  • NovantroneⓇ (mitoxantrone)
  • OcreveusⓇ (ocrelizumab)
  • TysabriⓇ (natalizumab)

Managing symptoms

Symptom-management therapies are the best way to improve your quality of life. Depending on your symptoms, managing your symptoms might involve:3

  • Various drug therapies
  • Surgery
  • Complementary and alternative therapies
  • Physical rehab, including physical therapy and occupational therapy
  • Mental and social health services

Treating relapses

People with MS can have relapses (often called flare-ups). Relapses cause new symptoms or make existing symptoms worse. This can be scary and frustrating.4

Even if you are getting the best treatment to manage your MS, relapses can happen. They can be unpredictable, and they can vary in severity. But there are treatments that can help manage relapses.4

Corticosteroids

One option for managing a relapse is corticosteroid (steroid) treatment. Sometimes, a short course of steroids can reduce inflammation and speed up recovery. Steroids are strong anti-inflammatories. They can help control the symptoms caused by inflammation during a relapse. Most neurologists agree that a high dose of steroids is the best way to treat a severe relapse of MS.4

Unfortunately, steroids can cause side effects. Most side effects of steroids occur when you take a high dose for a long time. Side effects may include:5

  • Weight gain
  • High blood sugar
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Decreased bone density

These are not all the side effects of steroids. Talk to your doctor about whether this treatment might be a good option for you during an MS relapse.5

Plasmapheresis

If you cannot tolerate steroids or if your symptoms are not responding to steroids, plasmapheresis may be used to help with a relapse. Plasmapheresis is a type of plasma exchange. Plasma exchange is when:6

  • The liquid part of your blood is taken out.
  • Unwanted elements are removed from it and replaced with a protein solution.
  • The liquid is put back into your body.

Plasmapheresis may help control your MS symptoms by removing antibodies that cause inflammation. The protein solution that is then mixed with your blood will help replace the antibodies that were removed. This might help to reduce the inflammation related to MS.6

Maintaining and improving function

Physical, speech, and occupational rehab can help maintain or improve your daily functioning. People with MS have different rehab needs, depending on their symptoms. Rehab might involve exercises or medicines to help you deal with your specific symptoms.7

Rehab can help with problems that involve:7

  • Walking
  • Moving your muscles
  • Speaking
  • Using the bathroom
  • Seeing
  • Thinking/cognition

Your rehabilitation therapy team might include:4,7

  • Physiatrist (rehab specialist)
  • Physical therapist
  • Occupational therapist
  • Speech therapists
  • Psychologists
  • Other specialists who can help with different areas affected by MS

Dealing with the emotional effects of MS

Having a chronic disabling disease such as MS can be hard on your mental health. Lean on those who can support your mental and emotional well-being. This kind of support can come from different places. Mental health experts, family and friends, and groups that advocate for people with MS might be able to help.8

You will likely face some hurdles along the way in your MS treatment journey. But with help from your doctor, you can find a treatment plan that works for you. With the proper care and support, you can manage your disease and lead a full life.

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Written by: Katie Murphy │ Last reviewed: June 2022.