The Multiple Sclerosis Society says that people with the most common form of multiple sclerosis (MS) should be offered drug treatment earlier.
MS is an incurable condition which affects 100,000 people in the UK, many of whom suffer from a relapsing, remitting version. This means that they experience flare-ups of symptoms and then have periods where the symptoms disappear.
The charity’s new review – which is a result of meetings between patients, medics and researchers – suggests that, contrary to some previously held views, the disease may continue to get worse during the remitting phase.
For this reason, the charity says that drugs which are not usually offered to patients during this phase could help some of them. MS Society experts stress that MS patients need consistent, ongoing treatment, regardless of how their symptoms change.
“Relapsing, remitting MS has been redefined – we now know the clock never stops with this disease and neither should our fight against it,” says Michelle Mitchell of the MS Society. “In the UK, the most common treatment option for MS in its early stages is currently no treatment and this needs to change for the sake of tens of thousands of people’s health.”
However, Dr Paul Cooper, a brain specialist who advises the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE), says there is still debate about the use of drug treatments early on in the condition. “These drugs are potent with potentially long-term side-effects and consequences, therefore we have to balance the risks and benefits. NICE is looking into these issues but the analysis is not yet complete and the data needs to be looked at carefully.”
Dr Cooper adds that there are other treatment options that can help people with MS at any stage of the disease, including better access to specialists and physiotherapy.
NICE plans to publish a new appraisal of drugs used to treat MS in 2017.