Should you take one of the disease modifying drugs? The pros of choosing to take medication
One of the first things you will hear from your doctor or neurologist after you get your diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis is the suggestion to think about taking one of the MS disease modifying drugs to slow the progression of your disease. In fact, I was sent home with cardboard suitcases filled with information about several of the MS drugs following one of my first visits to the neurologist. I was still in shock by my diagnosis and the information about the medications seemed overwhelming. It was a lot to process!
So how does one make this decision of whether or not to take one of these drugs?
Here are but some of the questions I asked myself in making my decision.
- Can I commit to taking the medication as recommended?
- Can I deal with the possible side effects?
- Can I live with the possible risks of not taking medication at this point in time?
- Likewise, can I accept the medical risks associated with taking any one of the MS medications?
- What is the overall efficacy of any of these drugs?
- How will my decision affect my quality of life in the short and long term?
- Will I be able to afford any of these medications?
- How difficult will it be to change my decision?
- What does the research show as the pros and cons to either taking or not taking MS medications?
- And unscientific as this may sound, what does my gut say?
Before I tell you what I decided to do, I am going to first tell you about the many reasons why many people DO choose to take the MS drugs.
- There are many studies which show that patients treated with interferons have fewer relapses or a longer interval between relapses.
- Even when a person has what is known as a "clinically isolated syndrome," it is postulated that the disease has already been attacking the brain for some time. Gina Shaw who wrote, "Multiple Sclerosis: The Importance of Early Treatment" quotes John Richert, vice president for research and programs with the National Multiple Sclerosis Sociey: "Once the autoimmune response starts, it's almost like a train going over the top of a hill. You'll have a much easier time slowing it down early in its course than later on, when the momentum starts to get out of control."
- There are many doctors and researchers who say that there is no such thing as a "benign" case of MS. Some believe that eventually even these benign cases can lead to disability and therefore one should take the drugs to decrease the liklihood of permanent disability.
- You may get more benefits from taking the drugs earlier in the course of your disease than later. In an interview with Dr. Mariko Kita, director of the Virginia Mason Multiple Sclerosis Center in Seattle entitled, "Not Treating Your Relapsing MS? Information to Consider" the doctor discusses these benefits: "Again, using the medication earlier in the disease seems to make more sense. When we saw it didn't work as well in patients later in the disease, we are really beginning to understand that earlier in the disease, it's more inflammation and, therefore, we might be able to treat that better. When people started on drugs right at the beginning of the study, those people tended to have a more favorable outcome."
- Perhaps the most convincing argument for me was one given by a physician's assistant who was treating me during an exacerbation. She told me that she believed that researchers would create an MS drug in our future which would halt the progression of this disease in its tracks. So taking the drugs offered now could possibly stall the disease enough so that you would be at a lower level of disability when those better drugs come out. But of course this conclusion is based upon hope that we will see such disease halting MS drugs in our lifetime.
And of course there are many MS patients who take the medications because they believe it is the best thing they can do to slow the progression of their disease. My fellow MS blogger and friend, Stuart from Stu's Views and M.S. News has this to say about making his decision: "My decision to begin a medication came from the lack of wanting to eventually have the need for a wheelchair or worse. When told that the medication slows the progression, it was an easy call to make, to begin using it."
How about you? If you are an MS patient who did decide to try one of the MS drugs please tell us about your experience. What factors entered your decision? Are you pleased with your choice to take the MS drugs? Do you believe they have helped you? Do you have any regrets? Share your story here. You just might help someone else in the process.