The fact that MS symptoms flare-up and subside, combined with the unpredictability of symptoms, has made MS a difficult disease to recognize, define, and treat. Since the late 1300s, individuals with a progressive illness suggestive of MS have been observed. Not until 1868 did the famous neurologist, Jean-Martin Charcot, lecture on the features of MS and give it a name.

Throughout the 1800s and 1900s, hundreds of therapies were tried, without success, in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. In 1951, cortisone (a steroid) was first used to treat MS relapses (also known as exacerbations, attacks, or symptom flare-ups). Cortisone was found to reduce the severity of the relapse and to shorten its duration, but it had no long-term effects on the disease.

The first drug proving to be effective in the long-term treatment of MS received approval in 1993. As of early 2014, 10 long-term treatments have been approved for relapsing forms of MS, with many more on the way. These are also referred to as disease-modifying therapies (DMTs). While these medications do not cure MS, they do work to slow disease activity as well as reduce the severity and frequency of flare-ups. Additionally, these DMTs may delay disease progression, delay disability, and increase longevity.

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