When it comes to MS, your doctor will likely try you on a number of different medications to determine which type of drug will be the most beneficial to you. One such family of drugs is often used when MS slips into relapse mode and your symptoms are exacerbated. This family of drugs is steroids, specifically corticosteroids. There are a number of different kinds of these steroids and they are work to alleviate the severity of pain symptoms of MS.
How Steroids Work
Several corticosteroids that you may encounter as an MS patient include prednisone, dexamethasone and methylprednisolone. All of these work to short MS attacks by shrinking the inflamed areas around the lesions on the spinal cord and brain. Sometimes, these corticosteroids are given via an intravenous line every day for up to five days during a relapse. Other corticosteroids can be given orally for several days once the IV steroids are complete.
The corticosteroids are often called upon for an unexpected, acute onset of MS symptoms and even for optic neuritis, another side effect of MS which affects vision. While there is no evidence that steroids slow the progression of MS, they do work quickly to shorten and reduce the inflammation that causes the MS attacks.
Certain corticosteroids work better than others with certain MS symptoms. For example, with optic neuritis, the methylprednisolone seems to reduce the swelling of the optic nerve more quickly to restore eyesight while prednisone taken orally could worsen the symptoms of optic neuritis.
Side Effects of Corticosteroids
As with any other medication, corticosteroids do have side effects although not severe during a short time frame. During the course of the medication, you may experience bouts of depression, sleeping problems and insomnia and even anxiety. Luckily, when you stop the medication, the side effects do go away.
Prolonged use of corticosteroids, either in high doses or for longer time periods can have more aggravating and serious side effects like high blood pressure, diabetes and other blood sugar issues, weight gain, swelling and even osteoporosis. Internal bleeding, cataracts and even paranoia and severe agitation can result. Only you and your doctor can decide if the extensive use of steroids is best for you.
Studies have shown that IV corticosteroid use produces fewer symptoms as well as less severe symptoms over taking oral steroids. Of course, people who take the steroids will discover that as time goes on, the corticosteroids are less effective at keeping the most severe pain at bay. It can be a tough call as to what to do.
On one hand you have a lessening of symptoms for a while but at the same time, you are setting yourself up for a whole host of new health problems. On the other hand, you do not take the steroids and suffer through longer bouts of pain when you have an MS relapse but you are not exposed to possible future health problems. Which is better and what choices do you make in the heat of pain? Again, only with your doctor can you decide the right method to go with for your MS pain.