Medicines to Treat Multiple Sclerosis

How is multiple sclerosis treated?

There is currently no cure for multiple sclerosis (MS). However, medicines can slow the progress of the disease and help relieve symptoms. Some people who have mild symptoms choose not to take certain medicines because of the risks associated with them and the possibility of serious side effects. Your doctor will talk to you about the risks and benefits of taking medicines to treat MS. A number of different therapies are also available to help relieve symptoms of MS. Therapies such as physical therapy and speech therapy can help you learn to cope with your symptoms.

How can medicines help?

Some medicines for MS can help relieve symptoms and treat specific problems. Other medicines can affect the long-term outcomes of the disease.

What symptoms of MS can medicines treat?

Specific medicines can treat some of the common symptoms of MS. These include:
  • Bladder problems: tolterodine, oxybutynin
  • Constipation: stool softener, laxative
  • Depression: venlafaxine, paroxetine
  • Erectile dysfunction: tadalafil, alprostadil
  • Pain: phenytoin, gabapentin
  • Muscle stiffness and spasms (spasticity): dantrolene, baclofen
  • Urinary problems: desmopressin, methenamine, phenazopyridine

What about steroids?

During flare-ups, affected nerve areas can become inflamed. You may have pain and loss of function in parts of your body. Steroids reduce inflammation, so that you can return to normal function sooner. Some examples of steroids given for MS include prednisone (taken by mouth) and methylprednisolone (given as a shot). Steroids are usually taken for a short period of time to help with symptoms. They do not treat the long-term outcomes of MS.

What medicines treat the long-term effects of MS?

Interferons are a group of natural proteins made by human cells. Interferons seem to slow the worsening of symptoms of MS over time. These kinds of medicine are usually given as an injection (a shot). Some examples of interferons used to treat MS include IFN Beta-1a and IFN Beta-1b. Interferons may cause serious liver damage as a side effect. Other side effects include flu-like symptoms and depression.

Glatiramer acetates are thought to block the cells that damage myelin, the substance that surrounds and protects your nerve cells. People taking this drug usually experience fewer relapses and fewer new nerve cell lesions. The medicine is given as a shot (injected with a needle) once a day. Side effects may include hives or pain at the injection site, heart palpitations and shortness of breath.

What other medicines are used to treat MS?

Natalizumab and mitoxantrone are 2 other kinds of medicine that treat more serious or advanced multiple sclerosis.

People who have tried other drugs first and have not had good results may try natalizumab. However, natalizumab can have serious side effects, and it should not be used in combination with other disease-modifying drugs. One of the known side effects is an increased risk of a fatal brain infection.

Mitoxantrone is sometimes used by people whose relapsing-remitting MS has worsened or changed to progressive MS, in which symptoms get steadily worse. Side effects include lowered resistance to infection, and increased risk of blood and heart disease. This information was developed as part of an educational program made possible through support from AstraZeneca.

More Information

For more information talk to your doctor.

Other Organizations


Written by editorial staff.

American Academy of Family Physicians

Created: 04/10