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Hopes and Benefits of Prompt Treatment continued...

However, research does suggest two benefits from prompt treatment:

  • Taking medicine soon after your first symptoms cuts down on how many times those symptoms come back.
  • People who take MS medicines early are less likely to have a disability -- at least over the short term -- compared with people who don't take MS meds. That means that within 6 months to 2 years after diagnosis, people who started medicine early were less disabled than those who began medicine later.

What if you've already had MS symptoms for a while? Maybe it took some time to get a diagnosis. Your doctor is likely to suggest that you start taking a disease-modifying drug. Even if you don't start the medicine at your earliest symptoms, you may still have fewer relapses.

Drug Choices

There's no drug or treatment yet that can cure MS. The drugs prescribed for people with MS usually target their overactive immune system; many different medications work this way.

Is one of these drugs better than others? Not across the board, Keegan says. "Right now, there’s no one first-line medication that’s known to be absolutely superior to others,” he says.

You need to have a detailed talk with your doctor. Go over the risks, benefits, side effects, and costs to find out which medicine suits you best. One drug may give you side effects that another doesn't, for example. Or, you may find the effects of one drug easier to live with than another.

Some are more expensive than others (although all are costly), and your insurance company may have rules about how much it will cover.

Some People Don't Need Medicine

Most people with MS will need to start treatment right away, but that might not be the case for everyone, Keegan says. Your doctor may watch you closely for a while if you have:

  • A very mild episode that goes away completely
  • A normal neurologic exam
  • An MRI that shows little damage in the brain and spinal cord

The "watchful waiting" approach spares you from side effects and high costs, if it's not clear that you need medicine right away. "But we always look carefully at treatment options for all of our patients right from the start," Keegan says.