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."
In some ways, each person with multiple sclerosis lives with a different illness. Although nerve damage is always a part of the disease, the pattern is unique for everyone.
Doctors have identified a few major types of MS. The categories are important, because they help predict how severe the disease can be and how well treatment will work.
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.