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VA Study: Sticking With MS Meds Improves Life Expectancy

Medically reviewed by Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Written by Maureen McNulty
Posted on November 8, 2022

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) doesn’t have a cure, but starting and sticking with disease-modifying treatments (DMTs) can slow down the progression of the condition.
  • In a new U.S. Veterans Affairs (VA) study, researchers found that people who consistently used DMTs as directed were 12 times more likely to live longer than those who didn’t.
  • The study found that taking DMTs as directed leads to better outcomes compared to quitting DMTs or missing doses.

A new study provides strong evidence that keeping up with your multiple sclerosis treatment plan can lead to a longer life. The study, published Sept. 22 in Medical Science Monitor, highlights the importance of using DMTs as directed. It found that people who maintained their DMT regimen over the 19-year-long study were 12 times more likely to be alive than those who didn’t.

This research highlights the importance of continuing to take DMTs for MS. These medications can provide long-term benefits, which seem to include lengthening your life span.

How DMTs Help With MS

Most DMTs are approved for treating relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), the most common type of MS. They calm an overactive immune system to lessen inflammation, reduce your risk of MS relapses, and prevent new plaques or lesions (damaged areas) from forming in your brain or spinal cord. While the medications don’t directly relieve symptoms of MS, they can improve your well-being and slow down disease progression (how slowly or quickly your MS worsens).

Different DMTs are taken as a self-injection under the skin, via IV infusion, or orally (by mouth).

For DMTs to be most effective, you must take the correct medication dose at the correct times. Taking your medication as directed is known as adherence. Nonadherence is very common in MS. Many people stop taking their medications, take lower doses than recommended, or skip doses.

The Current Study: Adhering to DMTs Provides Benefits

The study authors wanted to know more about the overall benefits of sticking to DMT treatments in the long term.

They collected data from 279 U.S. veterans with MS who received treatment at the Oklahoma City Veterans Affairs Medical Center between 2000 and 2019. The authors analyzed how well each person adhered to their medication regimen and what their outcomes were like.

At the end of the study, researchers found that 95 percent of the people who took DMTs were still alive while 67 percent of those who were nonadherent still lived. Additionally:

  • People who were adherent to their DMTs lived an average of 52 years after being diagnosed with MS.
  • Those who were nonadherent lived an average of 35 years after being diagnosed.

The authors concluded that people with MS who stuck with their DMTs were 12 times more likely to live longer compared to those who didn’t follow their prescribed DMT regimen.

Finding a DMT That Works for You

Although this study was small, it revealed significant long-term effects for consistently taking DMTs as prescribed. It showed that following a DMT regimen can slow your disease course, helping you live longer and experience better outcomes.

Unfortunately, sticking with DMT medications can be difficult for some people. There are several possible reasons for this, including:

  • Forgetting to take a dose
  • Having a fear of needles
  • Experiencing uncomfortable side effects
  • Feeling worried about potential serious side effects
  • Feeling as though receiving the treatments is inconvenient
  • Having trouble paying for the drug
  • Feeling like the medications aren’t working because your condition is worsening or you’re experiencing new symptoms

There may be ways to overcome these obstacles and experience a better quality of life. For example, your doctor could recommend additional treatments to help with side effects. They could also switch you to a different DMT if your current medication isn’t helping or is no longer covered by health insurance. There are more than 20 DMTs available to treat RRMS. You may find that switching to another option relieves certain side effects or that an oral medication is easier to take than an injection.

If you are having a hard time receiving or paying for a DMT, you may want to ask if your doctor’s office or local hospital knows of any resources that can help. You may also want to look into patient assistance programs that can help you get treatments at a lower cost.

Always talk to your health care provider before you decide to stop using a treatment. For tips on how to talk to your doctor about which medications may work best for you and the subject of treatment changes, read MyMSTeam’s doctor discussion guide on making treatment changes.

Find Your Team

On MyMSTeam, the online social network for people with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones, more than 193,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with MS.

Are you taking DMTs? Do you find it difficult to stick with your regimen? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on November 8, 2022
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    Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
    Maureen McNulty studied molecular genetics and English at Ohio State University. Learn more about her here.

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