Multiple Sclerosis Treatment

MS Modifying Medication

Multiple sclerosis doesn't have a cure, as yet, but improved understanding of how the disease can affect the central nervous system means there are many effective treatments which can help manage the symptoms and even slow down the disease.

Treatment generally falls into four categories:

  • Disease modifying medication
  • Steroids
  • Medication to ease symptoms
  • Other therapies

Disease modifying medication treatment

It is not actually clear how these drugs work but studies show that the number and severity of relapses are reduced and slowed down in relapse-remitting MS patients. They could regulate the immune response by stopping production of certain compounds involved in damaging and inflaming myelin (the protective sheath covering the nerve fibers of the central nervous system)

Those currently approved for Multiple Sclerosis in both the UK and USA are Glatiramer acetate (Copaxone) and three types of Beta interferon - Avonex, Betaferon and Rebif. In the USA, Mitoxantrone is also licensed but in Britain it is only licensed for use with certain types of cancer.

Capaxone resembles myelin and is thought to mimic it, slowing down the damage to the immune system and promoting immune intolerance. Beta interferon modifies the way the immune system responds, preventing it attacking and destroying myelin.

Both Capaxone and Beta interferon are very expensive drugs and it can be lottery as to whether it is available in your area.

Steroids to treat MS

These work by reducing inflammation and a high dose is usually given intravenously during a relapse which causes serious disability. A course of steroids normally shortens the attacks but cannot alter the course of the disease.

Other medication

A variety of other drugs can be given which lessen the secondary symptoms of MS though they can't treat the disease itself. These include antispasmodic drugs, painkillers, antidepressants, medication to aid sexual problems and antibiotics to cope with urinary infections.

There is also some debate as to whether cannabis is helpful in easing the symptoms of MS. Many sufferers do take cannabis to help with pain and encourage relaxation. It is still illegal in many countries but authorities are becoming more tolerant to its use as a medicine. There have been several controlled trials where it has proved beneficial.

Drugs licensed for chemotherapy can also be prescribed. They act by suppressing the immune system and as MS is thought to cause the immune system to attack the myelin drugs such as mitoxantrone and methotrexate have been shown to reduce symptoms.

Alternative Treatments

Treating MS is not just about administering drugs. There is a myriad of other therapies and support services - physiotherapy, occupational and speech therapy, counseling and psychological therapy, specialist nursing advice and support - which can help sufferers a better quality of life. (More on Alternative Treatements)

In some countries patients are treated with what's known as functional electrical stimulation ( FES ) which involves putting electrodes on paralyzed and weakened muscles. This method involves the use of electrical stimulation to shock the nerves into helping the sufferer use their muscles for a longer period of time. This is only really suitable for people who still have some walking ability. In the majority of countries it's a common treatment for stroke victims but its availability as an MS treatment is quite sporadic because of the lack of clinical research. In the UK, the MS Society is carrying out research into its effectiveness on mobility.


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