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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:

  • Aubagio (teriflumonide)
  • Avonex (interferon beta-1a)
  • Betaseron (interferon beta-1b)
  • Copaxone (glatiramer acetate)
  • Gilenya (fingolimod)
  • Novantrone (mitoxantrone)
  • Plegridy (peginterferon beta-1a)
  • Rebif (interferon beta-1a)
  • Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate)
  • Tysabri (natalizumab)

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

 

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

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