What Are the Treatments for Multiple Sclerosis?

Medically Reviewed By Susan W. Lee, DO
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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic condition that affects the nervous system. Treatments for MS focus on alleviating symptoms and treating relapses. Researchers believe that MS is an autoimmune condition affecting the central nervous system. It causes symptoms that include vision changes, problems with movement and balance, and memory problems.

This guide includes information about how doctors treat specific symptoms of MS. It also looks at medications doctors may prescribe for treating and preventing relapses.

What is the best treatment for multiple sclerosis?

There is currently no medication or treatment that can cure multiple sclerosis (MS).

The best treatments for you will depend on which symptoms you experience. Your doctor will be able to assess your symptoms and recommend appropriate treatments.

Read on to learn more about treatments your doctor may recommend for different symptoms of MS.

Treatments for vision problems

Initial symptoms of MS typically begin between the ages of 20–40 years.

Vision symptoms are often the first signs of MS and can include:

Your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids to alleviate vision problems. However, there are no specific guidelines for dosage and length of treatment with corticosteroids for optic neuritis.

In some cases, vision problems due to MS may resolve on their own. Your doctor will be able to discuss with you any treatment options they recommend.

Learn more about how MS affects your vision.

Treatments for mobility problems

MS may cause mobility problems or walking difficulties due to muscle weakness, balance problems, or dizziness.

A small 2018 analysis found that 45% of people with MS experienced mobility impairment within the first month after receiving a diagnosis. Up to 90% of people with the condition experienced mobility impairment within 10 years.

Talk with your doctor if you experience walking difficulties with MS. There are a number of treatments and support options they may recommend to help manage your symptoms.

Treatments and support options to help manage MS-related walking difficulties can include:

  • mobility aids such as a walking stick, cane, or wheelchair
  • disease-modifying drugs to slow down the progression of disability
  • medications to alleviate dizziness or tremors
  • muscle-strengthening medications such as dalfampridine
  • exercise training programs with a physiotherapist
  • vestibular rehabilitation exercises to improve balance
  • occupational therapy, which can help you to identify areas in your home to install aids such as supportive railings

Learn more about overcoming MS-related mobility issues.

Treatments for spasticity

Around 60–80% of people with MS will experience spasticity, according to a 2020 study.

Medications your doctor may prescribe for MS-related spasticity include:

  • muscle relaxants such as baclofen and tizanidine
  • gabapentin to alleviate nerve pain
  • benzodiazepines to reduce muscle spasms

Other treatments your doctor may recommend include botulinum toxin for local spasticity and intrathecal baclofen pumps. Intrathecal baclofen pumps are used in severe cases of generalized spasticity.

Learn more about managing multiple sclerosis spasticity.

Treatments for pain and itchiness

Pain with MS can be neuropathic or musculoskeletal. Neuropathic pain and feelings of itchiness can occur as a result of damage to your nerves. Musculoskeletal pain can occur due to the stress that MS places on your body. The treatments your doctor recommends will depend on the type of pain you experience.

Medications and treatments to manage pain with MS can include:

  • anti-seizure medications
  • analgesic medications
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • muscle relaxants
  • antidepressants such as amitriptyline and duloxetine

Discover more ways of managing chronic pain with MS.

Treatments for vertigo

Vertigo is a sensation that causes your or your environment to feel like it is spinning. This can occur from damage to the part of the brain responsible for processing visual and spatial information.

A 2019 study found that around 37% of people with MS experienced vertigo.

If you experience vertigo, your doctor may recommend treatments that include:

  • physiotherapy
  • antihistamines
  • anti-nausea drugs
  • steroids

Learn more about vertigo.

Treatments for fatigue

Fatigue is a common symptom of MS.

Treatments your doctor may recommend for fatigue include:

Other tips your doctor may suggest to help manage fatigue include:

  • getting enough regular exercise
  • getting enough quality sleep
  • finding ways to conserve your energy
  • avoiding medications that may worsen fatigue

Your doctor will be able to advise you on more ways to help manage and reduce fatigue.

Learn more about MS-related fatigue.

Treatments for bladder problems

Some people with MS may experience bladder problems such as an overactive bladder or urinary tract dysfunction. You may struggle to urinate or find that you are unable to control when you urinate.

Treatment for MS-related bladder problems will depend on your specific symptoms and can include:

  • fluid management to control intake and loss of fluids
  • pelvic floor muscle training
  • antimuscarinic agents
  • botulinum toxin type A injections
  • intravesical therapy, which involves placing medication directly into your bladder
  • catheterization

Learn more about MS-related bladder and bowel problems.

Treatments for bowel dysfunction

Around 39–73% of people with MS will experience neurogenic bowel dysfunction. About 50% will experience constipation or fecal incontinence at some point.

Treatments your doctor may recommend for bowel dysfunction include:

  • laxatives to loosen stool in cases of constipation
  • suppositories or enema for severe constipation
  • exercises to strengthen rectal muscles

Your doctor may also advise that you make changes to your diet. For example, you can reduce your risk of loose stools by avoiding foods and drinks that contain:

  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • sorbitol

Treatments for sexual problems

Most people with MS will experience some kind of sexual dysfunction.

Sexual dysfunction with MS can occur as a direct result of damage to the nerves. It can also result from emotional and psychological stress making you feel unattractive or unhappy with your body.

If your sexual dysfunction is emotional or psychological, your doctor may recommend relationship counseling or sex therapy.

You may also experience MS-related sexual dysfunction due to mobility problems or changes in sensations. Receiving treatment for these symptoms may help to reduce sexual dysfunction.

Learn more about how MS can affect sex.

Treatments for depression

MS can cause depression at any point during the progression of the condition.

It is important to contact your doctor if you experience low mood or depression with MS. They will be able to recommend treatments including medication and therapy.

To treat symptoms of depression with MS, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants. Different antidepressants work in different ways. Your doctor will be able to recommend a type that works best for you.

Therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may also help with depression. It can provide you with tools to help you manage your symptoms and changes in emotions. Some people may choose to use CBT along with or instead of antidepressants.

Learn more about how multiple sclerosis can affect your mind.

Treatments for relapse

If you experience a relapse of MS symptoms after a period of remission, your doctor may recommend a course of steroid medication. You will usually need to take steroids for around 5 days.

Your doctor may also recommend disease-modifying treatments for a relapse. These help to reduce the severity and frequency of relapses.

Learn more about MS relapse.

What are the latest treatments for multiple sclerosis?

There are a number of new treatments for MS currently under investigation. They involve repairing the myelin sheaths that surround your nerves, treating chronic disability, and suppressing the immune system. Researchers are also investigating the possible use of stem cell therapies for treating MS.

Ask your doctor about the latest MS treatments. They can discuss any newly approved medications and treatments that may be suitable for you.

What multiple sclerosis medications should I avoid?

You should avoid medication that can worsen fatigue. This can include some pain relief medications.

Your doctor may recommend taking certain disease-modifying medications, particularly if you experience adverse side effects or if you are pregnant.

It is important to inform your doctor about any other medications you are taking. This will help them ensure that your MS medication does not interfere with any other medications. Some medications for symptoms of MS may not be suitable for people with conditions affecting the heart or liver.

Contact your doctor if you have concerns about your current treatment or wish to discuss other treatment options.

When should I contact a doctor?

Contact your doctor as soon as you have concerns about MS. You should also seek medical advice if you currently receive treatment for MS and are experiencing any side effects.

Your doctor will be able to discuss your treatment options with you and answer any questions you may have. View our MS appointment guide to help you to prepare for your appointment.

How do doctors diagnose multiple sclerosis?

There is no individual test that doctors use to diagnose MS. However, they can carry out a physical examination and order tests to determine the cause of your symptoms.

Tests that may help in diagnosing MS include:

  • MRI
  • neurologic examination
  • spinal fluid analysis
  • blood tests

Find out more about how doctors diagnose MS.

Summary

Treatments for MS focus on alleviating symptoms and reducing the severity or frequency of relapses.

There is no cure for MS. Your doctor may prescribe medication to help reduce symptoms such as fatigue, spasticity, and vision problems. Occupational therapy can help you make modifications to your home and mobility aids can help you move around more easily.

Contact your doctor for advice on what treatment options are available to you. You should also contact your doctor if you experience new symptoms or if your symptoms worsen or do not respond to treatment.

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Medical Reviewer: Susan W. Lee, DO
Last Review Date: 2022 Sep 21
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.