Health A-Z

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Treatment

There is no cure for MS.

There are two types of treatments. One type modifies the immune system to suppress the disease. The other type improves the symptoms of MS.

Symptoms of MS that can be improved with medication include:

  • Fatigue Feelings of overwhelming exhaustion are common in people with MS.

  • Spasticity Muscle tightness and spasms can be disabling for MS patients with spinal cord damage.

  • Bladder dysfunction Bladder dysfunction is common in patients with spinal cord damage from MS.

  • Depression This is a common problem for MS patients.

  • Neurological symptoms Anti-seizure medications decrease the risk of repeat seizures. They may also reduce other uncomfortable neurological symptoms that occur during MS attacks.

Treatments that suppress the disease include:

  • Corticosteroid drugs These are the primary treatment for MS relapses. They are often given directly into a vein. Corticosteroids appear to shorten the length of MS relapses and they may accelerate recovery in an attack. But their long-term effect on the course of the illness is not known.

  • Interferon beta This is used primarily to treat relapsing remitting MS. Interferon beta is given as an injection, either into the muscle or under the skin. Studies have shown that interferon beta may lower the rate of MS relapses. It may also reduce the risk of disease progression and disability.

  • Glatiramer acetate (Copaxone) This drug is an alternative treatment for relapsing remitting MS. Some physicians recommend this drug when interferon beta:

    • Cannot be used

    • Has been used but is no longer effective

    • Is not tolerated well

    Other experts prescribe it as initial therapy. It may be used in other patterns of MS. But its overall effectiveness for them is less clear.

  • Natalizumab (Tysabri) This treatment may be prescribed when other treatments fail or are not tolerated. The drug blocks immune cells from entering nervous system tissue. This may prevent damage.

    Rarely, natalizumab can cause a very serious complication. The drug can provoke a degenerative and potentially fatal brain disease.

  • Other immune-modifying medications Other medications may be used to suppress the disease.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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