4 Signs You Should Try a New MS Treatment
Make sure you know the basics.
In order to understand your multiple sclerosis (MS) treatment, it’s important to understand how the disease is attacking your body. Multiple sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease categorized by the thinning, or demyelination, of the protective covering of your neurons (called myelin). Neurons are the cells in your nervous system in charge of transmitting information throughout your body. MS is considered an autoimmune disease, which basically means your immune system inexplicably starts attacking itself, leading to progressive damage to the neurons over time. Since MS can affect multiple areas of the brain, a range of physical, cognitive, and even psychological symptoms can show up at any time.
It's a treatment, not a cure.
The desired result for MS drug treatment is not to cure the disease but to improve the quality of your life. Typically, treatments for multiple sclerosis work to manage symptoms and flare-ups, as well as slow the progression of the disease. It’s important to monitor your condition to make sure you’re on the best possible medication—if you experience any of the following red flags, you may need to make a change.
1. You experience new symptoms.
Because MS affects many different parts of the brain, it can touch every part of your body that is controlled by your brain. Because of that, different conditions can pop up unexpectedly—MS is highly unpredictable. The type of treatment your doctor will suggest depends on what symptoms are present and at what time. Each symptom needs to be treated individually. Issues that commonly occur with MS include cognitive decline, depression, vision problems, bowel and bladder problems, muscle weakness and stiffness, sexual problems, and fatigue. Talking with your doctor at your regular check-ups can help you decide the proper course of treatment. If you experience reduced function in any form—changes in vision, increased fatigue, numbness or memory loss—then you should make talking to your doctor a priority.
2. Your MRI reveals new scars on your brain.
We encourage monitoring MS just as you would monitor high blood pressure; even though you can’t always see the symptoms, it could be causing underlying issues. I like to see my patients at least twice a year to monitor their condition. At a check-up, I will perform a physical exam and ask you whether or not you’ve noticed any changes in your symptoms. The best way to tell if and how your disease is progressing is through an MRI. MRIs are incredibly detailed pictures of your brain, and they’ve never been more accurate than they are today. If your MRI reveals new scars or lesions on your brain, it could be a sign that your treatment isn’t working to slow the progression of your MS, and we’ll have to make some adjustments.
3. You've started a new medication for a different condition.
It’s important for all your doctors—not just your neurologists—to monitor physical conditions and all the medications you’re on. Other health issues can affect the progression of MS. You should also check with your doctors and pharmacists to make sure your MS medications and medications for other conditions are not negatively interacting with one another. Drug interactions could cause worse side effects, or even make your medications less effective.
4. Your current drug treatment has more cons than pros.
Like any medication, MS treatment is not free of side effects. You may experience a range of side effects depending on which drug you are taking. Common side effects include flu-like symptoms, injection-site irritation and headaches. Some patients experience trouble breathing and an elevated heart rate immediately after injecting some of these medicines, but that reaction typically goes away 15 to 20 minutes later. The vast majority of side effects should get better a few weeks after treatment begins. If they don’t, talk to your doctor about adjusting your medication, especially if the side effects are causing poor adherence to your treatment.
4 Signs You Should Try a New MS Treatment
Last Updated: February 26, 2016
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THIS CONTENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This content is provided for informational purposes and reflects the opinions of the author. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding your health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.