Questions to Ask When Starting a New Treatment for MS

Knowing what to ask can help you learn more and feel more confident as you begin a new type of MS treatment.

MS patient with doctor

It can sometimes feel overwhelming to start a new form of treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS), but if you know the right questions to ask, you can learn more about the condition, better communicate with your healthcare provider, and advocate for yourself and your health.

Consider asking these questions when your healthcare provider suggests a new treatment:

Why are you prescribing this treatment for me?

Different medications are used for different purposes in MS treatment. They may be prescribed for one or more of the following treatment goals: to treat MS symptoms, treat relapses, delay disease progression and reduce relapses, and to maintain quality of life.

Disease-modifying therapies are often used to slow MS progression, while steroids (both in infusion and oral form) are often used to treat relapses. Medication for symptoms tends to focus on the specific issue, such as treating fatigue, bladder and bowel problems, or pain. Along with non-drug treatments, such as physical rehabilitation, medications may also be prescribed with the goal of improving your quality of life.

Your MS treatment won’t look exactly like anyone else’s, because everyone’s MS journey is unique. Understanding how your new medication fits into the big picture of treating your MS can help you feel like you’re in better control of the condition.

How often should I take this treatment?

Just as the reasons for taking a new treatment can vary, each medication will have its own dosing instructions. In order to be effective, disease-modifying therapies need to be taken consistently—even if you feel fine because you’re in remission. In contrast, medications for a relapse tend to be heavier dosages that are meant to be taken only for a short time to get symptoms under control.

In order to maximize the effectiveness of your treatment, be sure you know how often to take it and for how long. Ask if there are any special instructions—such as if the medication needs to be taken with or without food, or if there are any potential drug interactions with other medications, supplements, or over-the-counter medications. Your pharmacist can also help you verify this information.

What changes should I expect with this treatment, and how soon might they occur?

Before starting a new treatment, it’s good to have a realistic idea of what to expect. Your healthcare provider can help you understand how long it may take for you to notice a difference, and what that may feel like. Knowing these details can help you understand how well a treatment is working, once you’ve started it.

Does this treatment have side effects? If so, how do the pros outweigh the cons for my MS?

Many medications used to treat MS have side effects, some of which can be serious. That’s why you and your healthcare provider will need to weigh the pros and cons of a treatment before you begin taking it. Although it’s good to be concerned about possible side effects, the treatments used for MS can also improve your quality of life and delay the course of the disease.

Remember that if you’re not comfortable with starting a medication because of the side effects, it’s okay to tell your healthcare provider that you want to explore other treatment options.

What should I do if this treatment doesn't work, or if I don't like the side effects?

Knowing how long it can take to see a difference with your new medication can also help you understand when to try something else, instead of sticking with something that isn’t working. The same goes for if you are experiencing side effects. Asking this question before you start treatment can help you have a “game plan” of how to speak up and get the best care possible down the road. It’s also good to know because an MS treatment may work well for a while, but then you may need a different treatment as time goes on.

What lifestyle changes can help my overall treatment?

MS treatment is not just about medications. There are a variety of therapies that can help you in your overall quest for better health with MS, such as occupational therapy and physical therapy for physical symptoms, as well as psychotherapy for emotional symptoms. In addition, a healthy lifestyle—including exercise, adequate sleep, and good nutrition—can ease symptoms like fatigue. Talk to your healthcare provider about how your new medication fits into your treatment plan as a whole.

Article sources open article sources

National Multiple Sclerosis Society. "Types of MS."
Mayo Clinic. "Multiple Sclerosis."
Amy Perrin Ross. "Management of Multiple Sclerosis." Economic Outcomes in Multiple Sclerosis, 2013. Vol. 19, Issue 16 Suppl.
Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. "Relapse Treatments."
National Multiple Sclerosis Society. "Medications."
National Multiple Sclerosis Society. "Adherence."
I. Smets, L. Van Deun, et al. "Corticosteroids in the management of acute multiple sclerosis exacerbations." Acta Neurologica Belgica, 2017. Vo. 117.
National Institute on Aging. "Safe Use of Medicines for Older Adults."
National Multiple Sclerosis Society. "Disease-Modifying Therapies for MS."
National Multiple Sclerosis Society. "Rehabilitation."
Yavor Yalachkov, Dilara Soydas, et al. "Determinants of quality of life in relapsing-remitting and progressive multiple sclerosis." Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders, 2019. Vol. 30.
Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. "Common Questions."

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