There is still no cure for multiple sclerosis (MS) but a lot has changed in the way it's treated. Advancements in medications, known as disease-modifying therapy, have shown to change, slow or stop the natural progression of MS in many patients, but these drugs may not be right for everyone.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Clinical Advisory Board agrees that disease-modifying medications are most effective when started early, before the disease has the opportunity to further progress. Many neurologists recommend starting treatment with either interferon beta or glatiramer acetate when MS is diagnosed.
Most experts agree permanent damage to the central nervous system may occur early on, while your symptoms are still mild. Early treatment may help prevent or delay this damage.
The National MS Society says treatment with medicine may also be considered after the first attack in some people who are at a high risk for MS (before the MS diagnosis is definite).
In April 2012, the drug maker Merck announced preliminary results of a new Phase III, three-year clinical trial.
The results showed MS patients who received injections interferon beta-1a soon after their first signs of possible MS were less likely (28 percent) to progress to clinically definite MS than MS patients who switched to interferon beta-1a from placebo (41 percent).
The drug is currently available in the European Union, Asia and Latin American but is not available in the United States. The results are considered preliminary because the clinical trial is ongoing. Long-term data is expected for another five years.
There are currently eight Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drugs for use in relapsing forms of MS (including secondary-progressive multiple sclerosis or SPMS, for those people who are still experiencing relapses.) The National MS Society says of these, only one drug, mitoxantrone (Novantrone), is approved specifically for SPMS.
Whether to take a disease-modifying medication is one of the most important decisions MS patients have to make.