Over 2.3 million people around the world have been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
MS is a neurological disease that affects the spine, the brain, and the eyes. With MS, your immune system attacks your myelin (the protective coating found around your nerves).
This leads to nerve damage, inflammation, and scar tissue. This leads to symptoms like:
- Trouble with/incapable of walking
- Bladder/bowel control issues
- Muscle spasms, weakness, and tremors
- Vision problems
- Cognition problems
There’s no known cause of MS, with theories of causes ranging from genetics to infection to lifestyle choices like smoking.
While there’s no cure for MS, there are a number of MS medications that can halt the progression of the disease and help with symptoms. Keep reading to learn more about 7 different life-changing drugs that MS patients rely on.
1. Interferon Beta Drugs
Interferon Beta Drugs refer to a general class of medications that emulate the proteins found naturally in our body that fight against infection. You can find a number of these types of drugs on the market with the most common brand names being Avonex, Plegridy, and Rebif.
These drugs were some of the first drugs developed to treat MS and are still commonly prescribed today. Scientists still don’t know exactly why these drugs help treat MS, but it’s believed that these drugs signal the body to decrease immune responses that lead to the attack on the patient’s myelin.
These drugs are usually self-injected. Depending on which particular drug, you may need daily, every-other-day, or weekly shots.
2. Glatiramer Acetate
Glatiramer Acetate (often referred to by the brand names Glatopa and Copaxone) is an “immunomodulator” medication. This means that it directly interacts with a type of immune cell called a T-cell. T-cells are the immune cells that attack myelin.
But interacting with those T-cells, glatiramer acetate can actively protect your myelin from damage. Like Interferon Beta Drugs, these drugs are injected either daily or 2-3 times per week (depending on the drug and dosage).
Because this drug interferes with your immune system, some people find that they’re more prone to infection while on this medication. They must take extra precaution during cold/flu season and maintain excellent hygiene.
Novantrone, also known by the generic mitoxantrone, began its use as a cancer drug. It was recently approved for use in treating and managing MS.
Like Glatiramer Acetate medications, Novantrone affects the immune system. Specifically, Novantrone suppresses immune cells that attack myelin including T-cells, macrophages, and B-cells.
It’s often prescribed to more serious cases, known as progressive multiple sclerosis. It’s administered via IV every three months over a two or three year time period.
This drug is intense and has a number of serious side effects, like:
- Increased risk of certain cancers (especially blood-related cancers)
- Hair loss
- Risk of infection
- Cardiovascular problems
- Low white blood cell count
Because of this, it’s usually reserved for severe and progressive cases.
4. Dimethyl Fumarate
Dimethyl Fumarate is a common MS medication prescribed to both mild and severe MS cases. It’s an oral medication classed as an Nrf2 activator. In plain English, that means that this medication activates Nrf2 signals, which increases your body’s antioxidants and suppresses abnormal immune cell responses.
It protects the myelin by suppressing the immune cells that attack that tissue. The antioxidant boost also works to protect your brain and central nervous system health that can be impacted by MS.
This medication is taken orally twice per day.
5. Monoclonal Antibodies
There are a number of monoclonal antibody medications out there, including Tysabri, Lemtrada, Natalizumab, and Ocrelizumab. They’re administered via IV on different timelines depending on which drug you’re on.
Monoclonal Antibodies are made in the lab and work to bind to specific cells and other antibodies in your body. When the drug’s antibodies bind to their targets, they essentially stop them from working properly.
Each of the drugs is designed to target different cells and antibodies that cause MS to progress and/or cause symptoms.
Tysabri, for example, binds to T-cells, which prevents them from entering the brain/spinal cord. This prevents them from attacking your myelin.
Ocrelizumab, on the other hand, is designed to target cells called CD20-positive B lymphocytes. These cells have been linked to abnormal immune activity that results in MS symptoms and progression.
The drugs we’ve gone over so far directly work to offset and treat MS at the source. However, a great deal of MS treatments and medications work to simply control and alleviate symptoms caused by the disease.
Corticosteroids are one such class of drugs. MS leads to widespread inflammation, which causes pain, relapses, and other MS symptoms. They’re usually prescribed for short term use to reduce inflammation and lessen symptoms during MS relapses/flare-ups.
7. Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cell therapy is a relatively new pursuit that’s seeing exciting results. In stem cell therapy, stem cells derived from fat tissue and/or the umbilical cord are injected into targeted areas in order to regenerate damaged and/or lost tissue.
This study showed that stem cells provided multiple benefits to MS patients, including relief in a variety of symptoms ranging from pain to bladder control to reduction and/or elimination of muscle numbness and spasms.
This website explains exactly how stem cells are used to treat MS, along with all of the exciting benefits this new treatment method can give to MS patients.
These MS Medications and Treatments Offer Hope
If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with MS, take solace in this list of MS medications. These are just 7 examples of hundreds of treatment options and plans currently on the market to treat this disease.
Want to try something a bit more natural? Consider medical marijuana to treat your MS symptoms, especially chronic pain. Learn more about that green option here.