Combating MS Treatment Fears

5 Common Reasons People Don't Want to Take Meds

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The most effective treatments for multiple sclerosis (MS), particularly the relapsing-remitting types, are disease-modifying medications. That's because these drugs can actually slow down the progression of MS and reduce the number of relapses a person experiences.

It's easy to see, then, why it's important to begin a regimen of disease-modifying treatment as soon as possible after finding out you have MS.

If you're hesitating, though, it might help to know that you're not alone: Other folks have balked at taking MS drugs for various reasons. Perhaps you can relate to the typical ones that follow.

Fear of Needles

Many MS treatments are given intravenously—in other words, through a needle inserted into a vein. It's the most efficient way to get the medication into the body where it can start doing good. Whether needles really don't bother you or you're terrified of them, having a sharp object inserted into your skin probably isn't your idea of a good time. (By the way, there's a name for a severe fear of needles: trypanophobia.) Ask your doctor or someone else who's had similar treatments for tips on dealing with needle negativity. It may be simply having a friend along to distract you or learning a basic self-hypnosis technique will be enough to get you past your fear.

Apprehension About Side Effects 

Who wants to feel worse while being treated for already being ill?

But side effects are almost inevitable, especially with drugs powerful enough to treat MS. Most of them are minor and easy to treat. For example, you might have redness or tenderness around the injection site if you're on treatment that's given intravenously. A cool compress can combat these symptoms.

When you first start taking certain MS medications, you may feel a bit like you're coming down with the flu. This is common and yucky, but short-lived. Once your body gets used to the medication, this side effect will go away. And remember, if any reaction you have to medication is so bothersome you can't tolerate it, your doctor should be able to switch you to another medication, so don't hesitate to speak up. While this is understandable, it's important to know that side effects can usually be managed or reduced with specific strategies and careful monitoring.

Belief Something Better Will Come Along

New treatments for MS are being developed and studies all the time, but it's important to understand that it takes a long time for any medication to become available to patients. It has to be proven safe, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, made in enough quantities to be distributed, and included for coverage by insurance. So while it's a good idea to stay on top of MS research, it could be to your disadvantage to wait around for a new drug. Remember: The sooner you begin treatment for MS, the more effective it will be. 

Cost of Treatment

There's no doubt about it: MS is an expensive illness to have, and the economic burden can sometimes be just as draining as the physical and mental toll.

If money for your MS meds is an issue, know that there are resources to help you pay for treatment. One includes financial assistance sometimes offered by the medication manufacturers. Your doctor and your local MS society chapter should be able to fill you in about these options.

Relying on a Relapse Management

When you first find out you have MS, it's likely any relapses you have will be infrequent and mild. In fact, they may seem so easy to deal with you'll think you can just ride them out or treat them with prescription medications or simple lifestyle modifications. Even if your symptoms are dramatic, such as loss of vision from optic neuritis, you may be able to get by with a short course of Solu-Medrol (a high-dose corticosteroid given intravenously).

At this stage, it may be tempting to continue like this, dealing with the symptoms as they come and enjoying symptom-free remission periods. The problem is, allowing relapses to happen puts you at risk of developing a permanent disability. What's more, Solu-Medrol can have serious side effects. You're much better off working with your doctor make taking a disease-modifying medication an approach to treatment you can live with.

Sources:

Jagannadha R Avasarala, Cormac A O'Donovan, Steve E Roach, Fabian Camacho and Steven R Feldman. "Analysis of NAMCS Data for Multiple Sclerosis, 1998-2004". BMC Medicine 2007, 5:6.

National MS Society. Adherence.

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