Successfully diagnosing and treating multiple sclerosis is a challenge for doctors today. Two different types of MS treatment have evolved to help patients control their illness. These consist of drugs to help them manage their actual symptoms, and drugs that can actually help slow the progression of the disease. Neither form of MS treatment is capable of curing the condition, but both of them can help patients to lead happy lives.
Nobody really knows what causes multiple sclerosis to develop. There is no simple test that can diagnose the illness by itself, and nothing that can predict whether or not someone will develop MS in the future. Instead, doctors rely on interviewing patients and performing neurological exams. If the patients fit certain diagnostic criteria, then they are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. While more advanced imaging techniques have contributed to the success of these diagnostic measures, or understanding (and thus diagnosis) of MS is still not perfect. One thing is for certain, however- MS treatment should be started as soon as multiple sclerosis is diagnosed for patients to achieve the best results.
As MS progresses, the immune system attacks the myelin sheaths that cover nerves. This causes scarring and eventual disintegration of the myelin, which impedes how well the nerves work. As a result, people can suffer from any number of symptoms, depending on which nerves are the most badly affected. Things like pain, muscle spasms, weakness, and fatigue are common. Therefore, adequate multiple sclerosis treatment doesn’t just focus on slowing down the rate at which the body’s myelin becomes damaged; it focuses on helping patients to manage the symptoms of nerve damage that they already have.
Symptom management in multiple sclerosis is a bit complicated. Symptoms are often permanent as a result of nerve damage, but other symptoms may come and go. Symptoms often appear in sudden attacks, but can also appear slowly, over time. Virtually no two cases of multiple sclerosis are alike, so patients’ symptoms generally vary widely, as well. Things like pain killers and antispasmodics can help with physical pain, but things like fatigue, vision problems, and memory problems are a bit more difficult to alleviate.
Not all types of symptom management in MS treatment involve medication, either. Physical therapy can help relieve some pain and weakness, and group therapy can help combat feelings of depression. The key difference between symptom management versus disease modifying MS treatment is that symptom management does not impact how multiple sclerosis progresses. If patients were to use symptom managing therapy alone, they would most likely continue to develop rapidly worsening symptoms.
Disease modifying MS treatment generally relies on different types of immunomodulating medications. As was mentioned previously, MS is an immune condition, where the body begins to attack its own nervous system. There is no cure that can make the immune system permanently stop attacking the body, but science has developed a number of medications that can modify how the immune system responds, reducing the kind of damage it can do. These medications can range from corticosteroids like Prednisone, which is used in MS treatment for acute attacks of symptoms, to interferon beta based medications like Avonex or Betaseron.
These medications reduce inflammation in multiple sclerosis lesions. While steroids aren’t usually for long term use, other immunomodulators can be used long term to help reduce the rate of relapses, repair the blood-brain barrier, and slow down how MS progresses. Many patients see their symptoms improve as the inflammation in their lesions is reduced, but other patients with more severe or long-standing nerve damage may need additional medications to help alleviate their symptoms.
Although drug therapy is extremely effective when used appropriately, there are a couple of reasons why some people choose alternative forms of MS treatment instead of conventional medications like opiates or interferon beta based drugs. The main problem with drug therapy is that there is a high instance of side effects associated with many drugs involved in MS treatment.
Palliative treatments like painkillers can be addictive, and produce withdrawal symptoms when they are discontinued. Immunomodulators frequently cause things like fatigue or flu like symptoms. Many need to be injected weekly, if not daily, and some medications require patients to rotate injection sites to avoid things like scarring or localized fat loss. Steroids also can have severe withdrawal symptoms, and produce a host of negative side effects if they are used for too long. Therefore, proper MS treatment is a careful balance between what medications will produce the best effect while causing the least amount of unwanted side effects.
Maintaining this balance is tricky enough as it is, but many patients undergoing multiple sclerosis treatment find that they end up needing to change medication at some point, which often means that things like dosages and dosing schedules need to be re-worked.
There are some alternative or complementary forms of MS treatment available in addition to conventional therapies. Things like dietary changes, vitamin and mineral supplementation, and even surgery have all been proposed to help patients coping with MS. Many of these are still being researched to determine the extent of their efficacy at combating the condition, but they show great promise as methods of slowing the progression of MS without causing the side effects that conventional medications can. Some patients choose natural therapies over medication, while others choose to complement their regular medication-based MS treatment with natural treatments.
MS treatment is too complicated for a patient to tackle on their own, so it is very important for people with MS to discuss any alternative or complementary treatments with their doctor before they attempt to self-medicate.
In addition to coping with the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, it is often absolutely heartbreaking to patients to realize that there is not yet a cure for this disease. Though medical science still has a lot to learn about many different facets of MS, research has developed several different medications that can be effectively used to help people manage their symptoms and slow down how MS progresses. By taking advantage of the many MS treatment options currently available, people suffering from this condition can help improve their quality of life.