You want to find the multiple sclerosis treatment that's right for you, so you’re weighing the benefits and side effects. It starts by getting to know what each MS drug does.
"All of these medications, in one way or another, affect the immune system," says Thomas P. Leist, MD, director of the Jefferson Comprehensive Multiple Sclerosis Center in Philadelphia. "But they are all very different. Some are easier to take than others, some have a more proven safety record, and some are not suitable for certain patients."
Living with multiple sclerosis means living with uncertainty. The course of the disease is very difficult for doctors to predict. Some people live with MS for years without suffering serious symptoms. Others may rapidly become disabled. Why the course of the disease varies so widely remains unclear. One thing is certain. Most people with MS experience periodic relapses, also called flare-ups or attacks. These can be mild or severe. They may show up in many different ways. Symptoms can include:
If you know what to expect, you'll be better prepared to make decisions about your medicines.
If your doctor prescribes you an injectable MS drug, you'll give yourself shots into a muscle or under your skin. These were the first medications approved for the disease, and they are considered very safe.
You might get flu-like symptoms -- like muscle and joint pain, chills and fever -- for a day or two after each shot, but it's a normal reaction. Your skin may also be red and irritated near your injection.
"It can happen within seconds to minutes, and it can scare patients a little bit," Leist says. "So we warn people that it's likely to happen, and that the best thing to do is to let it pass."
You might be able to curb these symptoms if you start with a low dose, then slowly increase it over time. Follow the instructions carefully, and keep the skin around the injection site clean. You can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, and an anesthetic cream will help with the discomfort and itching.
Interferon is a drug you can inject on your own. It can affect your liver, so you'll need a blood test every few months. Other side effects include mood disorders or changes in a woman's periods. If you’re depressed, your doctor will check to make sure it doesn’t get worse, Leist says.
You can also try glatiramer acetate (Copaxone),which you need to use every day. If you take this drug, there’s a chance you could lose fat around the area of the injection. This creates a dent in your skin, which is not dangerous but can be permanent.