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 proven to be effective in the long-term treatment of MS received approval by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1993. Since that time, as of early 2018, 16 long-term treatments (or brands) have been approved for relapsing forms of MS. One of these 16 medications is also approved to treat primary-progressive MS.
Please note that many more experimental treatments are currently under investigation for relapsing and/or progressive forms of MS, some of which may be approved in the near future – adding to the 16 already-approved treatments. These long-term treatments 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.