MAKING MS TREATMENT DECISIONS

Find ways to partner with your healthcare team and learn from a leading neurologist about MS treatment considerations.

Transcript

Channing: Hi, my name’s Channing. I live in Northwest Arkansas with my dog, Benny, and I was diagnosed with MS about 14 years ago. And like so many people, before I began treatment, there was a lot to figure out. Today I’m speaking with Dr. Timothy West (he’s a neurologist and an MS specialist), and I’m talking with him about some of the questions I had, and some of the questions that I’ve heard from other patients like myself. So, hi Dr. West. Thanks so much for speaking with me today.

Dr. West: Hello, Channing. I’m excited to talk to you about some of the questions that you might have and other people might have. Actually, before I became a doctor, one of the people that I love most in the world also was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and we had lots of questions. So I know it can be overwhelming at first, especially when you are trying to consider the different treatment options. And there’s just a lot of things to think about, so if I can be of help, I’m glad to do so.

Channing: Yeah, I am very hopeful for our conversation today that you can clear some things up. Let’s start talking about what MS is exactly. I know from my personal experience that MS doesn’t always look one way or another. Can you maybe break it down for me? And talk to me about what it is that you tell newly diagnosed people with MS.

Dr. West: Well, first, I think it’s really important to understand that multiple sclerosis can injure the brain and can actually cause brain damage, but it’s not a brain disease. It’s actually a disease of the immune system. Your immune system, which is supposed to protect you, will actually get confused and mistakenly start attacking nerves in your brain or your spinal cord, or even your optic nerves.

MS is not a brain disease—it’s a disease of the immune system

Channing: Right. So, I’ve often explained that “my immune system is attacking the good guys.” Is that what causes symptoms?

Dr. West: Yeah, exactly. When the immune system gets confused, it will start to mistakenly attack the brain, the spine—even the optic nerves. And that can lead to a whole host of symptoms—imbalance, vision problems, cognitive issues, and weakness. Treatments for multiple sclerosis are thought to work by changing your immune system, trying to reduce further damage from occurring. I tell people living with MS that their brain is not the problem, it’s actually the immune system. And the idea is that we are going to try and protect that brain from the immune system going forward.

MS symptoms are caused by damage to the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve

  • loss of balance
  • vision problems
  • cognitive issues
  • weakness

Your brain is not the problem, as long as we can protect it from your immune system

Channing: Okay, so one question I had when I was newly diagnosed was, “Why would I start treatment? I feel fine.” How do you explain that to people when they feel so good and yet they need to start treatment.

Dr. West: Yeah, I hear that a lot, and I understand the sentiment. But unfortunately the studies have shown that the best time to start treatment for multiple sclerosis is actually when you are feeling good. Remember that MS is a chronic and a progressive disease, and what that means is that we currently don’t have a cure for it. And so approved treatments for multiple sclerosis are meant to slow disability progression, but they can’t undo injury. They cannot fix things that are already broken.

I often use analogies when I try to talk about this because it’s kind of difficult for some people to understand. Think of it like a helmet. You don’t put on a helmet after you’ve had the bike accident. The idea behind the helmet is to prevent injury. And in a similar way, if multiple sclerosis has caused vision problems or balance issues, there’s nothing I can do to give that back to you. And in many ways, I think that is the worst part about being a neurologist. I can’t repair what has been injured. There has been a lot of advancements in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, but still we don’t have a therapy that can reliably repair brain injury.

Channing: Is there something that someone with MS can do to feel better?

Dr. West: I mean, it is really important to take a disease modifying therapy, something that tries to prevent the accumulation of new problems or new disability. But there’s still so much that you can do as well to try to make yourself feel better. A lot of the things we know we should be doing become really important with multiple sclerosis, like eating healthy, exercising, staying hydrated, not smoking tobacco, and actually getting enough rest—learning how to take care of yourself. It can have an enormous impact on the way that you feel during the day, and it also gives you a sense of control because you can start to help manage your own symptoms.

Eat healthy, stay hydrated, exercise, don’t smoke, get enough sleep

Channing: That’s really great information. Thank you so much. It almost makes me feel empowered in living with this disease. For me, I found a multilevel approach to treating this disease. That’s everything from eating healthy and finding an exercise regimen that works for me, along with finding rest for my body and my mind, and then finding a medication that works with me. Thank you so much Dr. West for speaking with me today. It’s been really helpful.

Dr. West: Absolutely. My pleasure

Channing: For someone who’s diagnosed with MS, it’s really important to talk with your healthcare provider and really understand the disease and your treatment options. For me, when I was diagnosed with MS, I was hesitant to start a treatment because I felt like I didn’t need it. I was young and invincible! However, upon conversation with my healthcare provider, I realized there was a lot to learn about MS and starting treatment was a really important consideration.

Everyone’s experience with multiple sclerosis (MS) is different. Your healthcare provider should always be your primary source of information. The people in this video are paid spokespeople for Biogen.

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Importance of treatment

Dr. West explains what MS is and how it may impact your central nervous system. Learn why it’s important to work with your healthcare provider to start treatment as soon as possible. 

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