Modifying the disease course
More than a dozen disease-modifying medications have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat relapsing forms of MS. One has been approved to treat both relapsing MS and primary-progressive MS with several others approved for secondary progressive MS and clinically isolated syndrome. These medications reduce the frequency and severity of relapses (also called attacks or exacerbations), reduce the accumulation of lesions in the brain and spinal cord as seen on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and may slow the accumulation of disability for many people with MS.
An exacerbation of MS is caused by inflammation in the central nervous system (CNS) that causes damage to the myelin and slows or blocks the transmission of nerve impulses. To be a true exacerbation, the attack must last at least 24 hours and be separated from a previous exacerbation by at least 30 days. However, most exacerbations last from a few days to several weeks or even months. Exacerbations can be mild or severe enough to interfere with a person’s ability to function at home and at work. Severe exacerbations are most commonly treated with high-dose corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation.
In MS, damage to the myelin and nerve fibers in the CNS interferes with the transmission of nerve signals between the brain and spinal cord and other parts of the body. This disruption of nerve signals produces the symptoms of MS, which vary depending on where the damage has occurred. MS symptoms can be effectively managed with a comprehensive treatment approach that includes medication(s) and rehabilitation strategies.
Promoting function through rehabilitation
Rehabilitation programs focus on function — they are designed to help you improve or maintain your ability to perform effectively and safely at home and at work. Rehabilitation professionals focus on overall fitness and energy management, while addressing problems with accessibility and mobility, speech and swallowing, and memory and other cognitive functions. Rehabilitation is an important component of comprehensive, quality healthcare for people with MS at all stages of the disease.
Providing emotional support
Comprehensive care includes attention to emotional health as well as physical health. Mental health professionals provide support and education, in addition to diagnosing and treating the depression, anxiety and other mood changes that are so common in MS. Neuropsychologists assess and treat cognitive problems. For more information, see What to Expect from Mental Healthcare: A Guide for People with MS.