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Multiple Sclerosis Drugs - Exploring Your Options

Learn more about Betaseron, Copaxone and Other MS Drugs

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Updated April 16, 2014

Multiple sclerosis drugs can alter the course of multiple sclerosis by slowing the progression of the disease. And since my diagnosis, I have heard more than once that I picked a great time to have multiple sclerosis because of the variety of MS drugs now out on the market. Betaseron, Copaxone, Avonex and others work to modify the disease, but are all different from one another to some degree. Before working with your doctor to choose an MS drug that is right for you, you should review the differences in these medications carefully. It is just since the mid-1990s that there has been any treatment for multiple sclerosis itself – prior to this, doctors and patients relied on corticosteroids to shorten relapses, medications to address different symptoms, and physical and occupational therapy to adjust to and slow disability. The disease-modifying drugs have been shown to do just what they claim – modify the actual course of MS. They do this by reducing the number and frequency of new lesions, especially the ones that cause relapses.

Some Considerations

One thing to remember when looking at the different medications is that effectiveness is reported based on a two-year period. However, longer-term data is starting to become available for some of the older drugs (Copaxone, Avonex, Betaseron and Rebif), and the results seem to support the assertion that these drugs are even more effective over a longer period.

There are many considerations when deciding which therapy to begin, including: side effects, type of MS you have, ease of use and any necessary monitoring. Your neurologist will probably have an opinion on which therapy he thinks will be best for you, based on the considerations mentioned, as well as his own experience with patients like you.

Avonex

Avonex (interferon beta-1a) is a copy of interferon-beta, which is a protein component that your body makes. It works by reducing the immune response that can attack nerve cells in your body.
  • Which Type of MS is it for? Relapsing-remitting MS and sometimes for people suspected to have MS.
  • How Effective is it? It reduces the relapse rate by 30 percent.
  • How is it Taken? Once a week by intramuscular injection, usually given at home.
  • Storage: Prefilled syringes can be kept unrefrigerated for up to 7 days. (Powder form can be stored at room temperature for up to 30 days, but must be refrigerated once mixed).
  • Precautions: Be sure to tell your doctor if you have had depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping, thyroid problems, blood problems (bleeding, easy bruising, anemia, low white cell count), seizures, heart problems or liver disease. If you are pregnant (or might become pregnant), you should not use Avonex
  • What are the Side Effects? Flu-like symptoms during the initial weeks. These symptoms may continue longer. Less common are depression and liver dysfunction.
  • When was it approved? 1996
  • More Information and Patient Support: Avonex ActiveSource; Avonex; phone: 1-800-456-2255

Betaseron

Betaseron (interferon beta-1b) is a medication made from interferon beta, which is a protein component that your body makes. It works by reducing the immune response that can attack nerve cells in your body.
  • Which Type of MS is it for? Relapsing-remitting and progressive-relapsing.
  • How Effective is it? It reduces the relapse rate by 30 percent.
  • How is it Taken? Subcutaneous (under the skin) injection every other day. Usually done at home.
  • Storage: No special storage needed.
  • Precautions: Cannot be used while pregnant. Birth control is recommended for sexually active women taking Betaseron. Routine blood tests may be used to monitor liver, thyroid and blood counts.
  • What are the Side Effects? Flu-like symptoms during the initial weeks. These symptoms may continue longer. Injection site reactions may also occur including swelling, redness, and pain. Injection sites must be rotated. Can also cause depression.
  • When was it approved? 1993
  • More Information and Patient Support: MS Pathways; Betaseron; phone: 1-800-788-1467

Copaxone

Copaxone (glatiramer acetate) is a compound made up of amino acids. These amino acids, which are also found in myelin, are thought to help switch the immune system from causing inflammation around lesions to reducing inflammation.
  • Which Type of MS is it for? Relapsing-remitting.
  • How Effective is it? It reduces the relapse rate by 30 percent.
  • How is it Taken? Subcutaneous (under the skin) injection every day. Usually done at home.
  • Storage: Can be kept unrefrigerated up to 30 days. It is light-sensitive.
  • Precautions: Not recommended for use during pregnancy.
  • What are the Side Effects? Injection site reactions may occur, including swelling, redness and pain. Injection sites must be rotated.
  • When was it approved? 1996
  • More Information and Patient Support: Shared Solutions; phone: 1-800-887-8100

Sources:

Multiple Sclerosis: Hope Through Research ; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

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