Although there is no cure for multiple sclerosis, treatment is available to help those who have this disease of the central nervous system to manage it more effectively. The treatment helps to handle the symptoms, slow down the disease, and quicken recovery from attacks. The type of treatment provided often depends on the severity, symptoms and form of the disease. In cases where people have only mild symptoms, treatment is unnecessary. Progress has been made, and is continuing, into new ways to handle the disease and into new drugs to treat it.
Those who have multiple sclerosis should consult a doctor to determine what type of treatment is best and when it should be started. Potential side effects should be weighed against the benefits. Here’s a look at some of the treatments that are available for those suffering from multiple sclerosis.
- Several drugs have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for multiple sclerosis attacks, which usually result from inflammation that interferes with the central nervous system. When the attacks — often called relapses, flare-ups or exacerbations — are severe, doctors usually will prescribe high-dose corticosteroids to decrease the inflammation. These drugs can also help to reduce the frequency of attacks.
Should the person not respond to steroids, or if the symptoms are sudden or severe, plasma exchange is sometimes prescribed. This involves removing the plasma in the blood and mixing it with a protein solution. The plasma is then returned to the blood, often improving the symptoms.
- Therapies are available that can reduce the progression of the disease in those with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. Called disease-modifying drugs, they operate by suppressing or modifying the way in which the immune system works. They are based on the theory that multiple sclerosis occurs when the body’s immune system acts in an abnormal way. Because they help to decrease how often attacks occur and how severe they can be, they help a person to cope with their daily activities. Doctors often suggest that treatment with these drugs should begin when the diagnosis is first made.
- A number of alternative treatments have become available to assist those with multiple sclerosis to cope with their symptoms and to function more efficiently wherever they are, whether it be at home or at work. These rehabilitation programs are a significant part of general treatment to manage all aspects of the disease. One aspect of the treatment is to help with advice on a person’s overall health and fitness, but it also includes physical therapy, in which exercises that strengthen and stretch muscles are taught as well as routines and methods that make daily tasks easier to perform. For example, physical or occupational therapy can assist in leg weakness and general mobility. They also assist with such aspects as movement, speech and swallowing as well as cognitive functions, such as memory. Yoga, meditation, massage and acupuncture are also encouraged, not only to increase mental and physical health, but also to manage multiple sclerosis symptoms.
- A significant part of the treatment of multiple sclerosis is to provide emotional support for those with the disease. Sometimes mood swings, including depression and anxiety can occur. Mental health professionals can diagnose and provide encouragement, help and education for those affected in this way by the disease.
- Research continues to develop into new drugs that are even more effective than those available now in slowing down the progression of multiple sclerosis, which sets in after a few years. In addition, researchers are studying the effects of increasing drug dosages while at the same time reducing the frequency with which they are administered.