Medications for MS provide some measure of control over the inflammation that injures nerve fibres, reduce the frequency and severity of relapses, and/or ease the impact of MS symptoms. Slowing the accumulation of nerve damage may also reduce or prevent further disability seen during the course of MS.
Those diagnosed with relapsing forms of MS have likely been advised to start treatment as soon as possible. The best course of action is to control the inflammation and prevent irreversible tissue damage early on. Current treatments available for relapsing forms of MS target the inflammatory process of MS; they have not been shown to be effective for the majority of people diagnosed with progressive disease, where inflammation plays a lesser role in the disease process.
People are encouraged to maintain open and ongoing discussions with their MS healthcare team when exploring disease management options.
Medications used to manage multiple sclerosis (MS) can be divided into several categories:
Disease-modifying therapies (DMT)
These medications, as the name suggests, are capable of modifying or influencing the underlying disease course. These medications are also called immunomodulatory therapies and generally work by targeting some aspect of the inflammatory process to reduce relapses and slow disease progression. Because of the way these medications work, they are used for treatment in people with relapsing-remitting MS and secondary-progressive MS who experience relapses. Unfortunately, no disease-modifying therapy has yet been approved to treat primary-progressive MS — the type of MS that shows steady progression at onset. Visit the progressive MS section to learn about ways to manage progressive MS.
Click here for a full list of DMTs for people with relapsing forms of MS approved by Health Canada.
Relapse management therapies
These are steroid medications that help to decrease the severity and duration of MS relapses. A relapse – which can also be called an attack or exacerbation – is caused by inflammation in a specific area of the central nervous system. Steroids work to actively suppress the inflammation, which helps to improve relapse symptoms and speed healing.
Used over short term, steroids are considered to be relatively safe by most practitioners. Side effects may include difficulty sleeping, stomach upset, and irritability. Over the long term these, drugs may impact other areas of the body, including liver and kidney function and bone density, among others, and so long-term and/or frequent use should be avoided.
Symptom management therapies
These medications help ease MS-related symptoms such as fatigue, mobility impairment, spasticity, and pain, among others. Read more here.
Treatments in development
There has been a surge in the development of treatments for MS over the last two decades. Here are some treatments currently in the pipeline.
In addition to pharmacological and complementary therapies, using rehabilitation services and living a healthy lifestyle will help manage MS symptoms and maximize your sense of wellbeing. Balanced nutrition, adequate rest, stress reduction, and exercise can equip your body with what it needs to feel your best. Read more about wellness, lifestyle, and MS.