Written by Kimberly Holland | Published on September 9, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on September 9, 2014
Learn about how infusion medications for MS work and what patient should expect during treatment.
Traditional multiple sclerosis (MS) treatments are designed to ease the symptoms of the autoimmune disease and to reduce the lasting impact MS flares have on the body. A new type of medicine can modify how the disease behaves. These medicines, called disease modifiers, have been shown to reduce the rate of recurrence and slow down the progression of the disease.
Two such disease modifiers, natalizumab (Tysabri) and mitoxantrone (Novantrone), are injected. These injected, or infused, treatments are becoming more widely used to treat MS. They may be particularly helpful to people with aggressive or advanced MS.
What Is Multiple Sclerosis?
MS is an autoimmune disease. MS attacks the nerves and destroys their protective coating. This coating is called the myelin. If left untreated, MS can eventually destroy all of the myelin surrounding your nerves and may begin to destroy the nerves themselves.
As MS destroys myelin and the nerves under it, you will experience symptoms of the damage. Damage to nerves delays the communication relay between your brain and the rest of your body. Symptoms of MS include fatigue, slurred speech, and numbness or weakness in one side of your body.
Treatments for Multiple Sclerosis
Unfortunately, MS has no cure. The treatments that do exist cannot remove the autoimmune disease from your body. They can, however, slow the pace of MS in some cases. They may also help reverse some of the damage done by MS flares, or periods of increased disease activity.
Traditional MS treatments have two purposes. First, these medicines can help the body cope with the physical impact of a flare. Other traditional medicines can manage the signs and symptoms of MS.
Different classes of drugs are prescribed to control or treat different aspects of the disease. For example, corticosteroids are used to reduce nerve inflammation caused by MS and to prevent future attacks.
However, once an attack has begun, another type of medicine may be necessary. This type of medicine can help slow the progress of MS, reduce relapse rate, and prevent further brain lesion development. These medicines are called disease modifiers.
What Are Infusion Treatments?
One type of disease-modifying therapy (DMT) is injected medications. Some DMT medications can be taken orally each day, but two have to be injected. The two infused MS treatments are:
– Natalizumab (Tysabri) – This medication prevents potentially damaging immune cells from entering your brain and spinal cord. Tysabri can be injected once every four weeks.
– Mitoxantrone (Novantrone) – This medication, which is also a chemotherapy drug, may be particularly useful for patients who have secondary-progressive MS or rapidly worsening MS. That’s because Novantrone is an immunosuppressant. It works to restrain the immune system’s reaction to the MS attacks. With an immune system that is less sensitive to the flare, the symptoms of the flare may be diminished. Like natalizumab, mitoxantrone is an injected medication, but it is required only every three months.
How Are Infusion Treatments Given?
Both types of DMT infusions must be given under a doctor’s supervision. The potential risks associated with these injected medications need to be monitored closely by your doctor and a medical staff.
What Are the Side Effects of Infusion Treatments?
The infusion process has its own potential side effects. You may experience a bruise or bleeding at the injection site. You may also experience flushing, chills, or nausea after the injection. Some patients will experience a reaction to the medication on their skin. This reaction might include hives, scaly patches on the skin, warmness, or a rash.
In rare cases, people injected with Tysabri develop a deadly brain infection called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML). If you take Novantrone more than prescribed, you run the risk of a side effect that can be very toxic to your body. If you use this medicine, try to use it for a short window of time and under close doctor supervision.
Talk with Your Doctor
If you think infusion treatments might be a good option to help treat your MS symptoms and flares, talk with your doctor. These medications are not right for everyone. They bring with them a host of rare but serious complications. Still, if you have developed progressive MS or are looking for a better way to manage your symptoms, bring up the topic of infusion treatments at your next appointment.