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Are There Advantages to Infusion Therapy for MS?

What to know about MS medications that are delivered directly into the bloodstream.

Infusion means that a medication is delivered directly into the blood stream. It is also called an intravenous infusion.

Medically reviewed in March 2022

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that causes attacks of inflammation that damage tissues in the brain and spinal cord. Specifically, this inflammation damages myelin sheathing, a fatty tissue that covers and protects nerve fibers. Myelin sheathing is sometimes compared to the plastic casing that covers electric wiring.

Damage to myelin sheathing and the nerve fibers inside disrupt the way the central nervous system communicates with the rest of the body. Vision problems, tingling and numbness, fatigue, and problems with balance and coordination are all common symptoms.

If you are being treated for MS, chances are your healthcare providers may recommend a medicine given by infusion at some point. Infusion means that a medication is delivered directly into the blood stream. It is also called an intravenous infusion.

Therapies to treat MS attacks
The choice of therapy will depend on a number of different factors. One of the most significant factors is the type of MS being treated.

The most common type of MS is called relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). This type is characterized by attacks where symptoms get worse (relapses) and periods where symptoms improve (remission).

Corticosteroids are medications that act on the immune system and tamp down inflammation in the body. Certain corticosteroids are prescribed to shorten the duration and severity of MS attacks, and some are given by infusion (others may be taken as pills).

Disease-modifying therapies (DMTs)
As the name implies, disease-modifying therapies are medications that interrupt the course of the disease. In people who have RRMS, this means reducing the number of attacks a person experiences.

In people who have progressive forms of MS (secondary-progressive MS or primary progressive MS), these medications slow the progression of the disease. With progressive forms of MS, symptoms steadily worsen over time, instead of improving during periods of remission.

There is only one DMT indicated for the treatment of primary progressive MS, which is given by infusion. There are numerous DMTs approved for the treatment of secondary-progressive MS and RRMS, some of which are delivered with an infusion. (Other DMTs for these types of MS are administered as oral medications or injections.)

Why are some medications given intravenously?
Infusion medications are absorbed directly into the bloodstream, which means they circulate through the body and work quickly. At the same time, they enable large doses of medications to be delivered slowly into the body.

Delivery directly into the bloodstream also allows for precise dosing and delivery speed—oral medications, and medications that are injected into muscles or under the skin, must permeate through other tissues.

One advantage of infusion medications is that they are always administered under the guidance of a healthcare provider—either at your healthcare provider’s office or at an infusion center. This means healthcare providers will also be there to answer any questions you have, check in on how you are feeling, and monitor for any adverse side effects.

Every medication has advantages and disadvantages. It’s important to remember that there is no best therapy for MS, only the therapy that is best for a particular person at a particular time.

The choice of what therapy to use will be a decision each person with MS needs to make with their healthcare provider.

Article sources open article sources

MedlinePlus. "Multiple Sclerosis."
Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis."
ScienceDaily. "Brain's 'wiring insulation' as major factor of age-related brain deterioration." March 9, 2021.
UpToDate. "Patient education: Multiple sclerosis in adults (The Basics)."
MS Society. "Early signs of MS."
NCI Dictionary. "Infusion."
Multiple Sclerosis Trust. "Steroids (methylprednisolone)."
Cleveland Clinic. "IV Steroids for Multiple Sclerosis."
Jenna Fletcher. "What to know about steroids and MS." June 14, 2019.
National Multiple Sclerosis Society. "Types of MS."
National Multiple Sclerosis Society. "Treating PPMS."
National Multiple Sclerosis Society. "Disease-Modifying Therapies For MS."
Mayo Clinic. "Personalized therapy for multiple sclerosis (MS)."
National Multiple Sclerosis Society. "Medications."
Merck Manual Consumer Version. "Drug Administration."
Jon Johnson. "Everything to know about intravenous injections." MedicalNewsToday. August 23, 2021.

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