“What to Take–What to Do?”
August 6, 2012
There is no cure for MS. But there are options available to treat the symptoms, relapses and the course of the disease.
To keep things simplified, there are three groups of treatments, all with a different purpose: Medications, Corticosteroids, and Disease Modifying Agents.
These are used to treat the symptoms of MS, and the use can be short or long term. They minimize the intensity or effect of symptoms so the quality of life and daily function is more manageable. Examples include antidepressants for depression, baclofen for spasticity, Ditropan for incontinence and so forth.
Corticosteroids (“steroids”)—usually Solu-Medrol and prednisone– are used to reduce the duration and severity of a flare-up (or exacerbation, or attack). The administration of these drugs is high dosage over a short term (3 days to several weeks).
Disease-Modifying Agents (DMA’s)
Disease-modifying agents (also known as DMD’s—disease-modifying drugs) reduce the progression and activity of the disease. The FDA has approved ten of them now, and much research is occurring to continue to find more. Most of them are for folks who have the relapsing-remitting form of MS, or for those who have secondary progressive disease who continue to have relapses. They are given regularly mostly by injection over the long-term.
Most people with MS have used drugs in at least two of these categories. Some work for some people and some don’t work at all for others. If a drug is tried and doesn’t work, then something else can be tried. Every persons responds to drugs differently.
Medications and Corticosteroids have been tried and used for decades. Disease-Modifying Agents started becoming available in the nineties. Today, as I participate in online discussions and forms, it seems that almost everyone with MS is on one of these. Patients are strongly advised to get on one as soon as possible by neurologists, and the MS Society.
But taking DMA’s is a difficult regime. There are side effects, require much monitoring (doctor visits, MRI’s, clinic visits…), and they are expensive. While some folks get financial assistance through the drug companies, being a clinical trial participant, etc. many others pay thousands of dollars annually out-of-pocket.
And then the recent news comes on July 17th that a “Study Suggests That Interferons Did Not Reduce MS Progression”.
WOW! Can this be true? After all those years of injections, tests, office visits, side effects, dollars spent…. Now what? And what should a newly-diagnosed person do now about starting interferons?
I have had MS for 32 years and never took a DMA for various reasons. That is my personal decision. Throughout the years I have taken medications and steroids to help me with both symptoms and relapses. However, I would never tell any one not to take them. That is their personal decision.
So, what should one do about the recent news about interferons?
Whenever I have considered any medication over the years I followed these steps and offer them to you for your own consideration:
1.) Make sure you research the studies thoroughly about a drug before going on one. Do it from a variety of sources. Carefully evaluate the studies behind the drug—number of people involved, length of the study, type of study, etc.
2.) If you are on a drug, are the benefits outweighing the risks?
3.) There is no magic pill or injection to make MS go away. There are many other things someone can do to manage MS effectively to complement any drugs you are taking. This includes health and wellness (exercise, sleep, stress management…) and alternative therapies (massage, yoga, pilates…)
4.) Doctors aren’t always right. Persons with MS know their bodies best and should have the final say.
Take your time with making a decision. A delay of several weeks or months will make little difference in the overall course of your MS.
It’s common sense, your body and your decision.