After the initial shock of receiving a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, the first thing you will want to consider is what treatment to start with. It is important to explore all your options before making a choice. Take your time and gather as much information as possible.
MS is a progressive neurological illness and it does not have a cure yet. As few as 13 years ago there were really no effective medications on the market to treat the disease. However, in just the past decade several treatments, called disease modifying agents, have become available. They do not cure MS, but they can slow down the progress of the disability and impairment.
All of the available medications are injectables and they are only approved for Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis, the most common variation of MS.
Avonex, Rebif and Betaseron are in the interferon category. They impact the immune system and are administered by injection every other day to once a week. Copaxone, which is injected daily, has been found to slow down the destruction of nerve fibers. Tysabri is a monthly infusion which prevents white blood cells from damaging the nervous system. Tysabri is a choice of last resort, as it is associated with a serious brain infection, Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy or PML. PML is a common virus that is carried by many healthy people, but it can be an opportunistic infection in people with compromised immune systems.
How do you decide which medication is going to be right for you? Your doctor should be your first resource in helping you to make your decision. Ask about the side effects and consider how they will impact your lifestyle. A once weekly shot may be preferable to a daily injection. However the interferons have flu-like side effects and also can increase a susceptibility to depression.
The Internet is a great source of information, as long as you stick to the reputable sites. The National MS Society, Web MD, the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic all have good, unbiased and accurate data available.
Cost is also a factor. Call your insurance company and review your coverage for whatever drug your doctor recommends. This is not a time for any unpleasant surprises. If you do not have insurance, the drug companies offer special programs to help subsidize the cost of the medication.
It is also important to discuss your choices with your family and your significant other. You need their support and understanding.
Everyone with MS is different, with different needs and lifestyles. Learn as much as you can about your medication choices and work with your doctor to pick the one that will be best for you.