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Multiple Sclerosis (MS) - Medications

Medicines for multiple sclerosis (MS) may be used:

  • During a relapse, to make the attack shorter and less severe.
  • Over a long period of time, to alter the natural course of the disease (disease-modifying drugs or DMDs).
  • To control specific symptoms as they occur.

Controlling a relapse

These medicines can shorten a sudden relapse and help you feel better sooner. They have not been shown to affect the long-term course of the disease or to prevent disability.

Disease-modifying treatment

Strong evidence suggests that MS is caused by the immune system causing inflammation and attacking nerve cells and myelin, which is the protective coating surrounding the nerve fibers. Medicines that change the way the immune system works can reduce the number and severity of attacks that damage the nerves and myelin.

For people who have relapsing-remitting MS, disease-modifying therapy can reduce the number and severity of relapses. It may also delay disability in some people. Some of these medicines may also delay disease progression and reduce relapses in some people who have secondary progressive MS.

The most commonly used disease-modifying therapies are:

  • Interferon beta (such as Betaseron), for clinically isolated syndrome (first MS attack), relapsing-remitting MS, and secondary progressive MS.
  • Glatiramer (Copaxone), for clinically isolated syndrome and relapsing-remitting MS.

Other disease-modifying medicines may also be used for relapsing-remitting MS. These medicines are available as pills that you take by mouth. They include:

And other disease-modifying medicines may be used if the medicines above haven't worked or when MS is getting worse. They include:

  • Mitoxantrone (Novantrone), for relapsing-remitting MS that is rapidly getting worse or when other medicines for MS have not worked. It can also delay the progression of secondary progressive MS.
  • Natalizumab (Tysabri), for relapsing forms of MS when other medicines for MS have not worked.

There is no effective disease-modifying treatment for primary progressive MS.

Some people have only one episode of a neurological symptom such as optic neuritis. Yet MRI or other tests suggest that these people have MS. This is known as a clinically isolated syndrome. Many of these people go on to develop MS over time. In most cases, doctors will prescribe medicine for people who have had a clinically isolated syndrome. These medicines, when taken early or even before you have been diagnosed with MS, may keep the disease from getting worse or extend your time without disease.3

Relieving symptoms

Treating specific symptoms can be effective, even if it doesn't stop the progression of the disease. Symptoms that can often be controlled or relieved with medicine include:


WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 15, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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