Multiple Sclerosis Ms Treatments

No cure for multiple sclerosis exists, so treatment is aimed at slowing progression of the disease and reducing the frequency of flare-ups. Corticosteroids are a common treatment for multiple sclerosis flare-ups. The medication reduces inflammation and provides some symptomatic relief.

Long term multiple sclerosis treatment requires the use of medications such as interferon beta (Avonex®, Rebif®, Betaseron® and Copaxone®). These treatment options can lower the frequency of multiple sclerosis relapses and decrease the severity of symptoms during flare-ups.

Interferon Medication

Interferon beta (IFN®) treatment uses cytokine proteins to treat multiple sclerosis. Cytokines are naturally occurring proteins that control immune system responses and inflammation. Administered by injection, interferon medication decreases the frequency of multiple sclerosis exacerbations and slows disease progression in up to a third of patients. Interferon treatment can also reduce the number of multiple sclerosis lesions that develop in the nervous system, as well as slow or limit the level of disability caused by multiple sclerosis.

Interferon treatment appears to be most effective if the medication is started early after onset of multiple sclerosis symptoms. Several forms of interferon medication exist:

  • Betaseron ( IFN®1b) is an interferon medication similar to the interferon beta naturally produced by the body. Betaseron is used for secondary-progressive multiple sclerosis treatment as well as relapse-remitting multiple sclerosis. Betaseron is administered by subcutaneous (under the skin) injection three times a week, every other day, or every day depending on the severity of the disease.
  • Avonex and Rebif ( IFN®1a) are synthetic copies of natural interferon beta and are used only as a relapse-remitting multiple sclerosis treatment. Avonex is administered by intramuscular (into the muscle) injection once a week. Rebif is administered by subcutaneous injection three times a week.

Interferon medication can have side effects. The long-term use of interferon medication can produce flu-like symptoms. Pain or inflammation may occur at the injection site. In rare cases, interferon medications cause liver problems and severe depression.


Copaxone (glatiramer acetate), like interferon, has been shown to reduce multiple sclerosis relapse and disease progression. Copaxone is a synthetic medication based on the myelin basic protein — the protein under attack in multiple sclerosis. Copaxone is administered by subcutaneous injection daily. Copaxone has fewer side effects than interferon.

Copaxone treatment works by attaching small proteins (GA polypeptides) to the surface of T cells — cells involved in the inflammation process. Copaxone treatment reduces T cell activity, which in turn limits multiple sclerosis damage.

Progressive Multiple Sclerosis Treatment: Mitoxantrone

Treating progressive multiple sclerosis is more problematic than treating relapse-remitting multiple sclerosis. While interferon medications and Copaxone are used in progressive multiple sclerosis treatment, the disease does not always respond to these medications.

Mitoxantrone (Novantrone®) is a second choice for progressive multiple sclerosis treatment, and is only used after interferon medication and Copaxone prove ineffective. Mitoxantrone can help in the treatment of severe multiple sclerosis, especially when combined with corticosteroids.

Mitoxantrone can slow disability, flare-up frequency and the number of lesions produced by multiple sclerosis. However, the treatment is not designed for long-term use. Side effects of the treatment include possible heart failure, leukemia, sterility and birth defects.

Other Medications for Multiple Sclerosis Treatment

In addition to Copaxone, interferon, and mitoxantrone, other medications are used in multiple sclerosis treatment. These medications include:

  • amantadine: combats fatigue
  • antidepressants: treat emotional problems triggered by the stress of multiple sclerosis
  • baclofen: reduces spasticity and muscle spasms
  • carbamazine: anti-epileptic medication sometimes used for pain management
  • diazepam: reduces nighttime spasms
  • tizanidine: reduces spasticity and muscle spasms (if baclofen treatment fails).

Other treatment options include physical therapy, exercise, pain management and stretching to help with spasticity.

Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Research

Multiple sclerosis affects each person differently in its severity and symptoms. Unfortunately, the same holds true for multiple sclerosis treatments. While the standard treatments have proven effective, they don’t work for all individuals. Research into the use of statins, monoclonal antibodies and estrogen for multiple sclerosis treatment may provide new and more effective multiple sclerosis treatment options.

Statins: Cholesterol-Lowering Medications

Statins are a proven cholesterol-reducing medication that may also have a place in multiple sclerosis treatment. Research indicates that multiple sclerosis patients taking statins develop fewer nervous system lesions. In laboratory research, statins lowered the rate of immune cell reproduction, an effect that could prove effective in multiple sclerosis treatment. Statin studies are currently the most exciting area of multiple sclerosis research. Research suggests that statins may be as effective as interferon. Statins are also less expensive than interferon and can be taken orally, while interferon medication must be injected.

Natalizumab Research

Natalizumab (Tysabri®), a monoclonal antibody that blocks the action of integrin proteins (proteins on the surface of immune cells), has produced positive results in treating multiple sclerosis. However, recent fears that the drug may be linked to a fatal brain disease, progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, have kept the drug off the market. Research into the efficacy of the drug and possible links to the brain disease is ongoing.

Estrogen and Multiple Sclerosis Research

Estrogen may seem an odd choice for multiple sclerosis treatment. However, research has shown that pregnant women with multiple sclerosis suffer fewer flare-ups during pregnancy. If estrogen does alleviate multiple sclerosis, the hormone may find a place in multiple sclerosis treatment.

Much more research is required to prove estrogen’s safety as a multiple sclerosis treatment. Possible side effects include uterine cancer and blood clots, so research into estrogen and multiple sclerosis treatment will have to establish clear benefits and safety margins before this hormone drug can be used.

Other MS Treatment Research Avenues

Statins and estrogen are not the only medications undergoing research for multiple sclerosis treatment. Researchers are investigating the combination of cyclophosphamide and radiation followed by bone marrow transplants as possible multiple sclerosis treatment.


Dangond, F. (updated 2005). Multiple sclerosis.

Fauci, A., Braunwald, E., Isselbacher, K., Wilson, J., Martin, J., Kasper, D., Hauser, S.