The Importance of Long-Term Treatment for Multiple Sclerosis

At the present, approved treatments are only available for individuals with relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS) – largely for those with RRMS. Research (including many clinical trials) is ongoing at a rigorous pace to find treatments that will also be effective for the progressive forms of MS. Fortunately, symptom-management strategies and comprehensive care plans with teams of doctors, nurses, and therapists, help to greatly improve the quality of life for individuals with MS – both with relapsing and progressive forms of MS.

Treatment with a long-term, disease-modifying therapy (DMT) is crucial for most patients with relapsing forms of MS, since disease activity and damage continues within the CNS even when no new symptoms are present. When a patient begins a treatment regimen early in his or her disease course, disease activity is slowed. This not only reduces the number and severity of symptom flare-ups, as well as delays the progression of the disease (and possibly delays any related disability), but also reduces the number of active lesions that appear on an MRI.

Additionally, a 21-year prospective study of individuals (with relapsing-remitting MS) who began therapy early in the disease found that they experienced a longer lifespan than those who did not begin treatment as early. Of those who didn’t start treatment early, MS-related pulmonary infection was the most common cause of mortality over the 21-year period.

Photo of doctor and patient in an officeThe 14 FDA-Approved Long-Term Treatments for MS

Given via self-injection:

  • Avonex® (interferon beta-1a)
  • Betaseron® (interferon beta-1b)
  • Copaxone® (glatiramer acetate injection)
  • Extavia® (interferon beta-1b)
  • Glatopa™ (glatiramer acetate injection)
  • Plegridy™ (peginterferon beta-1a)
  • Rebif® (interferon beta-1a)
  • Zinbryta™ (daclizumab)

Given via intravenous (IV) infusion:

  • Lemtrada™ (alemtuzumab)
  • Novantrone® (mitoxantrone)
  • Tysabri® (natalizumab)

Taken orally:

  • Aubagio® (oral teriflunomide)
  • Gilenya® (fingolimod)
  • Tecfidera® (dimethyl fumarate or DMF, formerly known as BG-12)

Getting early treatment and staying on one of the long-term DMTs for MS may also delay the rate of conversion from RRMS to secondary-progressive MS (SPMS). This form of MS that follows RRMS exhibits a steady worsening, with or without relapses (or flare-ups). If flare-ups do occur, they usually do not remit fully. As mentioned in the previous section, without treatment, approximately half of individuals with RRMS convert to SPMS within 10 years. However, with the introduction of 14 DMTs since the first treatment became available in 1993, those taking a DMT have reduced or delayed the conversion rate.

For more information on long-term treatments for MS and how to select the treatment that is right for you, please see MSAA’s S.E.A.R.C.H.™ program.

Individuals who experience a more steady progression of the disease from the onset, without periodic relapses and remissions, may be diagnosed with primary-progressive MS (PPMS). Presently, no disease-modifying therapies have been approved for the long-term treatment of this form of MS, although many experimental medications are being studied with PPMS in clinical trials.

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