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Ampyra and Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic and often disabling disease of the central nervous system, which consists of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. The disease damages myelin, a fatty substance that normally surrounds and protects the nerves. It can also damage the nerves (called axons) within the central nervous system. 

Results of this damage can range from mild (numbness in the limbs) to severe (paralysis or vision loss). About half of people with MS experience problems with concentration, memory, attention, or judgment. Depression is also common.

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Although there is no cure for MS, many available medications can reduce its severity and slow progression.

Ampyra (dalfampridine) is a new and different treatment option for MS. It does not keep MS from getting worse or change the course of the disease, but is used to improve walking in MS patients.

What Is Ampyra?

Ampyra (pronounced "am-PEER-ah") is a type of drug called a potassium channel blocker. In January 2010, the FDA approved Ampyra extended-release tablets to improve walking in patients with MS. It works by improving the conduction of impulses between nerves of the central nervous system. It is available only by prescription.

How Ampyra Works

Ampyra works by blocking potassium channels -- located on the surface of the nerves -- that become exposed when the nerves' protective coating, myelin, is damaged in MS.

Normally, potassium ions, which enable nerve impulses to flow along the nerve fibers, work through these channels. When the channels are exposed, however, potassium ions leak from them, interrupting the flow of nerve impulses.

By blocking the potassium channels and improving the conduction of nerve impulses, Ampyra increases communication between damaged nerve cells to improve nerve function.

How Do You Take Ampyra?

Ampyra comes as a 10-milligram tablet. You take one tablet twice a day, 12 hours apart. You should never take more than one tablet at once or more than two tablets in a 24-hour period. 

You can take Ampyra with or without food. Swallow Ampyra tablets whole. Do not break, crush, chew, or dissolve tablets before swallowing. Doing so could cause the medication to be released too fast, possibly causing a seizure.

What Are the Benefits of Ampyra for Multiple Sclerosis?

About three-fourths of people with MS have difficulty walking and many find walking problems to be among the most debilitating effects of the disease. In clinical trials, patients treated with Ampyra were able to walk faster than those receiving an inactive pill, or placebo.

Ampyra is the first drug approved to improve walking in MS patients. Other treatments for MS are designed to slow disease progression and prevent relapses by suppressing the immune system, which is believed to be involved in the myelin damage.

What Are the Potential Side Effects of Ampyra?

In clinical trials of Ampyra, the most common side effects included:

  • Urinary tract infection
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Back pain
  • Balance problems
  • Irritation of the nose and throat or sore throat
  • Burning, tingling, or itching of skin
  • Indigestion
  • Constipation or diarrhea

Some patients also experienced a relapse of their MS.

WebMD Medical Reference

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