Common Reasons for Not Taking MS Disease Modifying Therapy

Financial and Pain Concerns

Male doctor sitting with female patient by window, side view
Jochen Sands/Getty Images

Despite the importance of taking disease-modifying MS medications (and as early as possible) for reducing the number of relapses and disability progression, some people are hesitant to start one. Others end up stopping their MS medication, against their doctor's advice.

Dislike of Needles

While your feelings about this may range from complete and abject needle phobia to a more mild dislike for needles, nobody likes them.

The good news is that if you are prescribed an injectable disease-modifying therapy, there are helpful tips to ease any discomfort and anxiety you may experience.

Side Effects of Disease Modifying Therapy

Some people just don’t like to take medication, and much of this can be explained by fear of potential side effects. While this is understandable, it's important to know that side effects can usually be managed or reduced with specific strategies and careful monitoring. Many side effects too decrease with time, like the flu-like symptoms seen with interferon therapies (e.g., Avonex, Betaseron). 

Waiting for Something Better

There are several promising therapies in the pipeline, but it's important to understand that it takes a long time for any medication to reach patients from the clinical trial stages. There are a number of processes that must occur including FDA approval, manufacturing enough drug for distribution, and inclusion for coverage by insurance.

So while it's a good idea to stay on top of the MS research, stay healthy and minimize your disability by taking a medication that is currently available.

Relapse-Management Approach

Early in their MS journeys, people may experience relapses that are infrequent and mild, with symptoms that can be addressed with prescription medications or simple lifestyle modifications until the relapse is over.

Even if the symptoms are dramatic, such as loss of vision from optic neuritis, many relapses can be shortened by a short course of Solu-Medrol (a high-dose corticosteroid given intravenously). At this stage, it may be tempting to some to continue like this, dealing with the symptoms as they come and enjoying symptom-free remission periods. This approach is unwise for many reasons, including a significant chance of residual disability from each relapse and potentially serious side effects from Solu-Medrol treatments.

Financial Concerns

MS is an expensive illness to have, and the economic burden can sometimes be just as draining as the physical and mental burden. But the goods news is that there are resources out there to help you pay for your medications, including financial assistance programs offered by the medication manufacturers. Talk to your doctor and your local MS Society chapter about these financial options. 

Bottom Line

Taking your disease-modifying medications and starting early (even if you have no symptoms or only mild symptoms ) is important for slowing your disability and reducing the number of relapses you have. In addition, experts believe that starting a disease-modifying therapy in the early stages of MS is better than in the later stages, in which the disease becomes more progressive.



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

Continue Reading