A Quick Guide to Infusion Therapy for MS

Numerous MS therapies are given by infusion. Here’s what patients need to know about this method of administering treatment.

Medically reviewed in January 2022

Sometimes called a “drip,” an infusion is a method of delivering medication directly into a person’s bloodstream through a catheter inserted into a vein. Infusions are different than injections or shots, which are subcutaneous (into fatty tissue), intramuscular (into the muscle) or intradermal (within the layers of the skin). Many different medicines are administered with infusions, including pain medication, antibiotics, chemotherapy and blood plasma. There are also a number of medicines used for the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS) that are given via infusion.

Types of MS treatments
As many experienced patients know, there are different forms of MS, and different types of therapies used to treat MS. Therapies fall into three main categories: therapies that treat flare-ups (also known as an attack, relapse, exacerbation or episode), therapies that prevent flare-ups from happening and therapies that address some of the difficult symptoms that can be caused when a person has MS.

Treatments for flare-ups
A number of different MS therapies are given by infusion. A patient who is experiencing a flare-up may be given several infusions of corticosteroids over the course of a few days. This infusion will help reduce the inflammation caused by MS and shorten the duration of a flare-up. Corticosteroids are a type of steroid, but different than the steroids used to enhance athletic performance and build muscle. Corticosteroids can also be taken orally.

Some preventative therapies for MS are also taken by infusion. Preventative therapies for MS are often referred to as “disease-modifying therapies” or DMTs. MS is an autoimmune disease, a disease where the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue—in the case of MS, nerve tissue, particularly myelin, a fatty substance that covers and protects the nerves. DMTs work by modifying or suppressing processes in the immune system to prevent this from happening. There are more than a dozen different DMTs that are approved for treating MS. Some are given by infusion, with dosing schedules that vary depending on the medicine being used. One infusion typically takes several hours. Not all DMTs are taken via infusion, others are taken as oral medications or administered with injections.

Treatment for MS symptoms
Patients may also be prescribed therapies to address some of the issues that result when a person has MS, such as pain, depression, problems with bladder control and difficulties with sex. These treatments are typically taken as oral medications or by injections.

It is important to remember that MS affects everyone differently, and every therapy is not appropriate for every patient. The therapy you use will depend on a number of factors, and will be a decision you make with your healthcare provider. It is also important to remember that none of these therapies will cure MS—multiple sclerosis is a lifelong condition that requires patients to continuously work with their healthcare providers and adhere to their treatment plans.

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