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When it comes to treating multiple sclerosis, there are a ton of options, but not all of those options are right for every patient. Let's take a look at glatiramer acetate, for starters.

Treating multiple sclerosis requires careful consideration and observation by a neurologist in order to best assess how well the treatment works and if the side effects of a particular medication are too hazardous for each individual patient. Since there is no cure for the degenerative disease, it’s important to fit each unique patient with the most effective treatment for their symptoms as well as the stage of the disease.

One treatment that shows great promise in helping patients to manage their symptoms of MS is glatiramer acetate, which is also sold under the brand name Copaxone. How does this particular medication work, and how is it taken? What are the risks involved? First, understand the choices available for treatment of MS.

Steroids

For patients who don’t experience harsh and frequent relapses but still find that symptoms of a relapse disturb the ability to continue with daily life, a doctor can prescribe a high-dose corticosteroid, which will ease the inflammation caused by the flare up. Steroids may be prescribed as an intravenous injection or as an oral medication, depending on severity of the symptoms and the doctor’s recommendations.

Beta interferon

This is perhaps the most common medicine prescribed for MS. It works as an anti-inflammatory and reduces the number of white blood cells in the bloodstream in order to reduce the symptoms and severity of symptoms in an MS relapse. This particular treatment is taken as an injection and can cause flu-like symptoms that typically last about 48 hours and can be managed with over the counter ibuprofen.

Monoclonal antibody treatments

Also known as immunosuppressants, these medications shut down some part of the immune system in some way, which in one way or another avoids the body making or utilizing the antibodies that attack the myelin coating on the central nervous system, which in turn, reduces relapse episodes and lessens the overall impact and damage to nerves.

Chemotherapy

In some cases, none of these other therapeutic options work. If that happens, a doctor could recommend that the MS patient try a certain type of chemotherapy that will essentially target and kill the cells that make the offensive antibodies. This is a final treatment option and not an early recommendation, as it can have severe side effects on the patient.

7 things patients should know about glatiramer acetate

Understanding the drug administered for treatment of any disease can help ease a patient’s mind, so it’s important to consider the factors involved with medications such as glatiramer acetate.

  1. It is considered a disease modifying therapy (DMT). This means that it “alters” the course of MS in some way. In the case of DMTs for multiple sclerosis, this drug, like others, works to reduce the number and frequency of relapses as well as the severity of symptoms during a relapse. This is also meant to help halt or slow the progression of the disease.
  2. It is an immunosuppressant. In working to reduce the occurrence of MS relapses, it works to shut down some part of the immune system. With glatiramer acetate, it isn’t quite understood how this works, since the mechanism of action is unclear. However, the hypothesis currently being supported is that it somehow modifies the immune process that leads to the attack on the central nervous system. Because it is an immunosuppressant, it can lead to a greater risk of infection due to lowering the body’s defenses against certain bacteria and viruses.
  3. It is an injection, delivered subcutaneously (under the skin). A 40 mg dose is delivered three times a week or a 20 mg dose is delivered daily. It is a synthetic protein created to simulate one of the proteins in myelin, the protein and fat based coating that insulates the central nervous system. As mentioned, this substance seems to block the action of the T-cells that damage myelin, though it is not known why or how this happens.
  4. Glatiramer acetate doesn’t have any known drug interactions, meaning that it is considered safe to use even when the patient is on other drug regimens for MS or other ailments.
  5. There are very few side effects and adverse reactions related to the medication. The most common is irritation to the injection site, a common experience for most who get injected medications. Other lesser experienced symptoms include labored breathing, mild hives, slight chest pain, vasodilation (which lowers blood pressure), rash, and hypersensitivity.
  6. Effectiveness has been proven in multiple studies. Glatiramer acetate has been studied against controlled placebo groups five times, each with positive results. These studies incorporated increasing numbers of facilities and patients, testing the 20 mg daily injection in the first four studies and the 40 mg injection three times a week in the fifth study, which involved over 1,400 patients during a two-year period.
  7. Patients may administer their own medication. The injection site should be cleaned with an antiseptic, and the site should be rotated so that the same area is not always used. The medication should be stored in a refrigerator and kept cold, though the prefilled syringe with the dose should be removed from the cold environment and allowed to warm to room temperature previous to administration for both effectiveness and patient comfort.

Conclusion

When it comes to treating multiple sclerosis, there are a ton of options, but not all of those options are right for every patient. Each case of MS is as unique as the individual who has it, and that means that the medication prescribed, and the regimen of treatment varies widely from one person to another.

However, because it is effective and one of the safer medications with fewer side effects, glatiramer acetate has become one of the preferred treatment options for many multiple sclerosis patients. If the patient is relatively healthy and doesn’t have a lot of risk of infection, it’s one of the better immunosuppressants to prescribe, and though it requires injections, the fact that they are prefilled and subcutaneous means the patient can administer them without a doctor’s supervision. That makes it possible to treat and home and avoid several trips a week to a doctor or clinic. Relatively few side effects also assist in making it a great choice for independent patients.

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