Research into a cure for MS is ongoing, but there is no cure yet. Treatment is instead focused on symptom management, on slowing the course of MS, and on maintaining quality of life and ability to function. Because MS is different for each patient, treatment plans with vary and will also be determined by the type of MS a patient has.
Drugs approved by the FDA to treat MS are intended to reduce the severity and frequency of MS attacks, reduce the areas of damage (lesions) in the brain, and may slow the progression of disability.
The following drugs are examples of agents that may reduce disease activity and progression in people with relapsing forms of MS and people with secondary-progressive disease who have relapses:
In addition to controlling symptoms and disease progression, treatment of MS also involves managing flares (exacerbations or attacks). Flares may be mild and short-lived, or they may be severe and persist for weeks or months. Severe flares are most commonly treated with high-dose corticosteroids, which reduce inflammation.
Other drugs are often prescribed to help manage symptoms of MS. Symptoms for which medication may be prescribed include spasticity, pain, bladder problems, fatigue, sexual dysfunction, weakness, and cognitive problems.
Other Approaches to Managing Symptoms
In addition to medication, symptoms of MS can be managed with lifestyle choices, or self-care techniques (for example, moderate exercise when appropriate, adequate rest, nutrition, and avoiding excessive heat), with rehabilitation (with a physical or occupational therapist, speech pathologist, cognitive rehabilitation specialist, and others), and with the use of assistive devices such as canes, foot braces, walkers, and wheelchairs. These interventions are intended to help people with MS maintain the ability to function—at home and at work.
What to Expect
While it’s true that MS can be disabling, it’s important to know that most people with MS do not become severely disabled, and for most life expectancy is normal or near-normal. Many people continue to walk, though some eventually need help doing so, such as a cane or crutches. If weakness, fatigue, or balance makes walking difficult, some people find using a scooter or wheelchair helpful.
Many people with MS benefit from emotional support, as the disease, its progression, and unpredictable nature can present evolving emotional challenges and ups and downs. Caregivers of people with MS can also benefit from such support. Mental health professionals (including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and counselors) as well as support groups can help people with MS and their caregivers develop coping, communication, and stress management skills and address emotional changes like mood swings and depression.
NINDS Multiple Sclerosis Information Page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/multiple_sclerosis/multiple_sclerosis.htm. (Accessed October 2010).
About MS. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society website. Available at:http://www.nationalmssociety.org/about-multiple-sclerosis/index.aspx. (Accessed October 2010).