Establishing and following a treatment plan with your healthcare provider is the best strategy for managing your MS. Medications are used in multiple sclerosis (MS) to modify the disease course, treat relapses — also called attacks or exacerbations — and manage symptoms. Along with the other essential components of comprehensive MS care, these medications help you manage your MS and enhance your quality of life.
Modifying the disease course
The following US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved disease modifying therapies for MS have been found through clinical trials to reduce the number of relapses, delay progression of disability, and limit new disease activity (as seen on MRI).
- Injectable medications
- Oral medications
- Infused medications
Under certain circumstances, some healthcare providers may use medications to treat MS that have FDA approval for other diseases – read more about "off-label" use. For help with DMT costs, read about pharmaceutical companies’ patient assistance programs.
MS disease modifying therapies and progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML)
Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) is a rare, progressive white matter brain disease that targets cells that make myelin and usually leads to severe disability or death. PML is caused by the reactivation of the JC (John Cunningham) virus, a common virus to which most people have been exposed. The JC virus causes no symptoms and is usually managed by the immune system without any treatment.
Testing positive for the JC virus does not mean you will develop PML, though it could put you at higher risk if you take medications that weaken your immune system. PML has occurred very rarely in people using some MS disease modifying therapies. A warning is included in the prescribing information and medication guide for those therapies. One medication, Tysabri, tests for JC virus before starting treatment and while on treatment to help identify people who are at a higher risk for PML. Talk to your healthcare provider about the testing required while taking Tysabri.
Symptoms of PML are diverse and can be similar to MS symptoms, including clumsiness, weakness and visual, speech and personality changes. Individuals should be alert to any new or worsening symptoms and report them promptly to their MS healthcare provider. Learn more about PML from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
MS relapses are caused by inflammation in the central nervous system that damages the myelin coating around nerve fibers. This damage slows or disrupts the transmission of nerve impulses and causes the symptoms of MS. Read more about managing relapses here.
Below are common symptoms of MS and some of the medications used to treat those symptoms.
Learn more about treatment options by watching these videos. Additional videos on specific treatments are available on the treatment's web page.