Channing: Hi, my name’s Channing. I live in Northwest Arkansas with my dog, Benny, and I was diagnosed with MS 14 years ago. And like so many people, before I began treatment, I had a lot of questions. So today I’m speaking with Dr. Timothy West about some of the questions that I had about the safety risks that are associated with MS treatments. Hi, Dr. West. Thanks so much for joining me today. I appreciate it.
Dr. West: Hello, Channing.
Channing: Safety risk and possible treatment side effects with MS treatments are often a concern for people when they want to start an MS therapy. There’s a lot of information out there that you might read about, and they can kind of scare you sometimes. So what are some ways to help people think about those risks and then also reduce the risks that may come with starting on a treatment?
Dr. West: Because of how multiple sclerosis treatments work, there may always be some risk involved. However, we can help to reduce this risk by monitoring how your body responds to the treatment. Fortunately, we know about some of the safety risks associated with each medicine and what to look for.
There may always be risks, but there are ways to help monitor and reduce risks
Channing: So how do you know about a treatment’s safety risks?
Dr. West: Well, before a medicine gets approved by the FDA, it undergoes extensive testing for effectiveness and safety in clinical trials. After it is approved, we continue to monitor people taking the treatment to learn more about the potential risks. The information we gather from the clinical trials and by monitoring real-world patients. It helps us to get a better understanding of the risks of each treatment and what we need to watch out for.
I compare it to crossing a road. There’s a risk of getting hit by cars driving by as you cross the street. But since you know what the risk is, you know what to look out for, and you wouldn’t cross the street without looking both ways. But suppose you’re hiking in the woods. Right, there’s no risk of cars, but maybe you need to watch out for other things like falling rocks, or snakes, or even bears. So whatever the situation you’re in, you have to be aware of some of the potential risks that could occur. And with multiple sclerosis treatments, when you’re aware of the risks, you can work with your healthcare team to monitor for these potential side effects.
When you’re aware of risks, you can monitor for side effects
Channing: So, Dr. West, should people be monitored while taking their treatment?
Dr. West: Yeah, depending on the treatment, there may be testing required before and during treatment. Regardless of treatment choice, people may need to come back in for regular checkups, MRI scans to monitor for lesions in the brain or in the spinal cord, or bloodwork to make sure the medicine is working as intended, and so we can address any potential safety concerns.
Some ways to monitor:
- Regular checkups
- MRI scan
- Blood work
Channing: But what if a person’s treatment isn’t working or there are safety concerns? Can they then try something different?
Dr. West: Yeah, there are ways we can manage some of the side effects from the treatment. But it’s fairly common for people to switch treatments either because of side effects or because they don’t tolerate is as well as they would like, or because it’s not working as well as we would hope.
Channing: So Dr. West, do you know what medications will work for different people? Or is it one of those things where it’s a combination of different factors?
Dr. West: Since each person is different, they might have different results or side effects from the same medication. Although we don’t necessarily know which medicine will work for someone or how their body will react, we do have a pretty good idea, a good understanding based on the medications and what we know about the person and their goals. We hope that the first medication works. But if it doesn’t, we have other options that we can discuss and hopefully find another medicine that may work for them. I think of it a little bit like dating. We hope that the first person you meet is the one, but you may have to date a few people before you find the person you’re meant to spend your life with.
Every person is different, and they might have different side effects
Channing: Okay, that’s a really good way to illustrate the whole process. So thank you so much for all of your help today and answering all of my questions. I really appreciate it.
Dr. West: You’re very welcome.
Channing: One of the things I wish someone would have told me when I was first starting out on treatment is that not all treatments are right for all patients. I was relieved when I learned that there were ways to monitor my response to treatment and that there were other options available if my current treatment was not right for me. This gave me a little more peace about my decision.
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.