Multiple Sclerosis: Drug Treatments

A number of drugs have been shown to slow the progression of MS in some people. These are called the disease-modifying drugs. They include:

How Do These Drugs Work?

All of these drugs work by suppressing, or altering, the activity of the body's immune system. Thus, these therapies are based on the theory that MS is, at least in part, a result of an abnormal response of the body's immune system that causes it to attack the myelin surrounding nerves.

Do the Drugs Cure MS?

These drugs do not cure MS, but they do reduce the frequency and severity of attacks and the development of new brain lesions. In addition, they slow down the progression of MS, reducing future disability.

These drugs can improve the quality of life for many people with MS. Therefore, most doctors suggest that treatment with one of these drugs be started in most people as soon as a diagnosis of relapsing-remitting MS has been made.

Is Drug Treatment Right for Me?

The decision concerning whether or when to begin treatment with one of these medications is best made by you and your doctor. Factors that should be considered include potential side effects, benefits, frequency, method of medication delivery, and your personal concerns, priorities and lifestyle.

The most important goal is to find a treatment you can use comfortably and consistently. Each pharmaceutical company offers customer support and may also provide some financial assistance for qualifying individuals without prescription drug coverage.

Here's what you need to know about the most commonly used MS drugs.

Aubagio (teriflunomide)
Use: Treatment of relapsing forms of MS.
How administered: A tablet by mouth
Frequency of use: Daily
Common side effects: Diarrhea, liver problems, nausea, hair loss
Support Program: 855-MSOne2One (855-676-6326)

Avonex (interferon beta-1a)
Use: Treatment of relapsing forms of MS, and to treat after an initial episode of inflammation
How administered: Injection into a muscle
Frequency of use: Weekly
Common side effects: Mild flu-like symptoms
Support Program: MS Active Source 800-456-2255

Continued

Betaseron (interferon beta-1b)
Use: Treatment of relapsing forms of MS
How administered: Injection under the skin
Frequency of use: Every other day
Common side effects: Mild flu-like symptoms
Support Program: MS Pathways 800-788-1467

Copaxone (glatiramer acetate)
Use: Treatment of relapsing-remitting MS
How administered: Injection under the skin
Frequency of use: Three times per week
Common side effects: Reaction at the injection site
Support Program: Shared Solutions 800-887-8100

Gilenya (fingolimod)
Use: Treatment of relapsing MS
How administered: A pill by mouth
Frequency of use: Daily
Common side effects: headache, diarrhea, back pain, and abnormal liver tests

Novantrone (mitoxantrone)
Use: Treatment of rapidly worsening relapsing-remitting MS

and for progressive-relapsing or secondary-progressive forms of MS
How administered: By IV
Frequency of use: Once every 3 months or four times a year. Maximum dose 8-12 doses
Common side effects: Nausea, hair thinning, decreased white blood cell count
Support Program: MS LifeLines 877-447-3243

Plegridy (peginterferon beta-1a)
Use: Treatment of relapsing forms of MS
How administered: By autoinjector or prefilled syringe
Frequency of use: Once every 2 weeks
Common side effects: Injection site reaction, flu-like symptoms
Support program: MS Active Source 800-456-2255

Rebif (interferon beta-1a)
Use: Treatment of relapsing forms of MS
How administered: Injection under the skin
Frequency of use: Three times per week
Common side effects: Mild flu-like symptoms
Support Program: MS LifeLines 877-447-3243

Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate)
Use: Treatment of relapsing forms of MS
How administered: A pill by mouth
Frequency of use: Twice daily
Common side effects: Flushing, stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
Support Program: MS Active Source 800-456-2255

Tysabri (natalizumab)
Use: Treatment of relapsing forms of MS
How administered: By IV
Frequency of use: Every 4 weeks
Common side effects: Headache, feeling tired, and joint pain
Support Program: Tysabri Active Source 800-456-2255

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Richard Senelick, MD on May 31, 2015

Sources

SOURCE:

WebMD Health News: "Gilenya, First Oral MS Drug, Gets FDA Nod."

News release, FDA. 

Biogen Idec web site.

News release, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.

 

 

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