M.S. Treatment Basics
Patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis face great uncertainty, since the course of the illness varies so widely among patients. Experts recommend a multidisciplinary approach to the disease, which might involve a neurologist, a nurse or social worker expert in MS, and possibly a specialist in mental health (since depression is so common and the suicide rate is higher than average).
Decisions to Treat MS after First Indications (Clinically Isolated Syndromes)Evidence now strongly suggests that the most destructive changes from multiple sclerosis in the brain occur very early on in the disease process -- and may cause considerable damage even before symptoms begin.
Many experts are now urging treatment after a first episode of relapsing MS (a clinically isolated syndrome) using medication called disease-modifying drugs. They include three interferons -- IFN1b (Betaseron) and IFN1a (Avonex, Rebif)--and glatiramer (Copaxone). These drugs are all effective and may help slow down or even prevent progression in some patients. Definitive studies comparing them are ongoing.
The best current approach is to use specific findings from advanced MRI techniques to help determine which patients are at highest risk for progression and would be likely candidates for early treatment with disease modifying drugs.
Interferons and other disease-modifying drugs can have significant side effects and are expensive. Furthermore, a significant number of patients have a mild course that can be managed with less toxic drugs. Nevertheless, strong evidence suggests that delaying treatment in most patients increases the risk for severe disability.
Treating Acute RelapsesCorticosteroids are the standard drugs for treating an acute relapse and hastening recovery. Typically, intravenous methylprednisolone (IVMP) is given once a day for 3 days. Sometimes this is followed by oral prednisolone for a few days.
Maintenance Treatment for Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS)Disease Modifying Drugs. Since the introduction of the disease modifying drugs -- interferons beta (Betaseron) and alpha (Avonex, Rebif) and glatiramer (Copaxone) -- relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis is now considered a treatable disease. In patients with very active MS, some experts start with Betaseron or Rebif. For patients with possible or probable MS, they begin with Avonex. This drug is slightly less effective than Rebif and Betaseron but has fewer side effects. Copaxone is also be a reasonable choice for early mild MS. It appears to have the fewest side effects, longer relapse-free rates than interferons, and its benefits persist for years.
The newest drug, the monoclonal antibody natalizumab (Tysabri) was approved in November 2004 for treatment of relapsing forms of MS. The FDA withdrew it from the market, however, in February 2005 following reports of serious neurological events. In June 2006, the FDA allowed natalizumab back on the market but with special restrictions (see Drug Treatment section).
Other Approaches. Some research has reported benefits from the use of pulsed administration of intravenous methylprednisolone (IVMP) or intravenous immunoglobulin, although there is not enough evidence for either approach to recommend them as first-line choices. Other drugs showing promise include azathioprine (an immunosuppressant) and laquinimod (an oral immune-modulating drug).
Chronic-Progressive Multiple SclerosisTreating Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (SPMS). Interferons and other standard treatments for relapsing-remitting MS may be helpful for patients with SPMS who are still experiencing relapses. It is not clear if they help those whose condition has become continuously progressive.
Mitoxantrone (Novantrone) was the first drug approved for SPMS. The drug is an immunosuppressant and is proving to delay relapse and progression. Side effects, however, can be serious in some cases. Some experts recommend using mitoxantrone when evidence suggests progression to SPMS, and continuing the interferons Betaseron or Rebif for maintenance.
Other immunosuppressants, such as cyclophosphamide, methotrexate, and cladribine, may help some patients with SPMS. They can have very toxic side effects, however, and there must be clear treatment indications for patients who take these drugs.
Treating Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. No treatments have been proven yet to slow progressive multiple sclerosis. Studies using interferons and glatiramer are under way.
Treating ComplicationsA number of treatments are available for managing symptoms and complications.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE:
I personally am on a interferon medication mentioned named Copaxone. The medication is administered through daily injection therapy done yourself at home. Although the long term effects of the medication are still unknown, this drug has been widely used to treat MS for over 15 years. Studies show that the medication is highly effective to slow the process of the disease and may even help reverse some of the effects of the demylination. Copaxone also offers the patient with less side effects than some of the other injectable therapies. This was the deciding factor for me when choosing my medication. Although an oral medication is currently on the market, research is limited and has been shown to increase the risk of developing certain cancers. :)