All medications - prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) - have health benefits as well as risks associated with their use. Risks may include side effects, allergic reactions, and interactions with foods, drinks, or other drugs. To increase the potential benefit and reduce potential risk of drugs, take medication as prescribed or directed by your doctor or other healthcare provider. However, it is estimated that approximately 50 percent of all people who use medications do not use them as prescribed.
Multiple sclerosis patients often use different types of medication, including symptomatic drugs, disease-modifying therapies, and steroids for acute relapses. MS patients with comorbidities may also take medications for other conditions, such as depression or anxiety. Balancing a myriad of patient needs can be complicated, but there are things you can do to get the most out of your MS medication.
1. Choose medication that fits your lifestyle and priorities.
With 13 disease-modifying therapies available, MS patients and neurologists in the US have more options than ever to slow down progression of the disease. Before choosing a medication, it is important to evaluate the benefits and risks of each option to determine which one(s) more closely matches your personal needs, priorities, and concerns. Don’t forget to factor in your lifestyle preferences as you will only gain the greatest benefit from a treatment plan if you are able to follow it as directed.
2. Use medication as directed.
With each new medication you are prescribed, it is important to understand how the drug should be taken (what time of day/week/month to take it, with food or without, and for how long); potential side effects and what to do if you experience them; what to do if you miss a dose; and are there certain foods, alcohol, dietary supplements, or other medications to avoid while taking the prescribed medication. For each MS medication, there are patient guides available that explain some of this information, but don’t be shy about asking your doctor and/or pharmacist for more information.
3. Keep a symptom, medication and side-effect diary.
Especially important when you are first getting into the habit of using a new medication is to keep track of how you are using the medication, including any problems you experience. Many MS drug manufacturers provide physical diaries and/or smart device apps that help make this task easier. With your first MS drug, patients are encouraged to document where they gave themselves injections and rotate injection sites appropriately. With careful documentation, you can look back on your notes to look for patterns that may help you improve the way you use medication.
4. Take advantage of drug company programs.
Drug companies that manufacture disease-modifying therapies for MS typically offer programs to patients. These programs range from on-call nurses who answer your questions, free print or electronic materials, and financial assistance to help pay for treatment, to local programs where patients can learn more about treatment options, ask trained medical professionals questions, and socialize with other patients. Taking advantage of these programs is one way that you can become a more educated and equipped patient to make informed treatment decisions.
5. Keep your doctors informed as well.
Always tell your doctors/nurses/healthcare professionals what medications, OTC drugs, and dietary supplements you are using. Keep an updated list in your purse or wallet which can be easily accessed and shared. If you see multiple doctors, schedule time with your primary care doctor or a clinical pharmacist to take a big picture look at your health needs and to optimize your treatment plan(s). Also tell your doctor if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or intend to become pregnant in the near future; use alcohol or tobacco; have other health conditions; have food or other allergies, or follow a restricted diet.
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Lisa Emrich is a patient advocate, accomplished speaker, author of the award-winning blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA, and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers. Lisa uses her experience to educate patients, raise disease awareness, encourage self-advocacy, and support patient-centered research. Lisa frequently works with non-profit organizations and has brought the patient voice to health care conferences and meetings worldwide. Follow Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.