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What Is Involved in Chemotherapy for MS?

Some types of multiple sclerosis therapy may need to be administered at a local infusion center, under the watchful eye of a well-trained infusion nurse.
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  • Written By: H. Lo
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 19 July 2014
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Chemotherapy is a treatment frequently used for cancer and multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease, but in some cases, a person might undergo chemotherapy for MS. Using chemotherapy for MS is an available treatment option because of the way chemotherapy works, as well as the way MS works. In general, chemotherapy for MS involves taking drugs to kill white blood cells in an attempt to slow down the development of the disease.

To understand how chemotherapy for MS works, it is probably best to be aware of what chemotherapy is, as well as how MS affects the body. Chemotherapy involves using certain drugs to kill cancer cells, but in the process, chemotherapy also destroys healthy cells as well. Quickly-growing or dividing cells are the ones that are most susceptible to chemotherapy drugs. This means that while cancer cells are affected, so are other cells that grow and divide in a fast manner, including white blood cells.

An autoimmune disease is a condition in which a person’s immune system attacks his or her own body by mistake. With MS, white blood cells attack the central nervous system, which includes the brain and the spinal cord. These attacks are what cause symptoms of MS to occur. Since chemotherapy destroys white blood cells, the idea behind using chemotherapy for MS is that by killing white blood cells it can reduce the attacks to the central nervous system, thereby delaying the progression of the disease.

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It is not known what exactly causes MS, and there is no cure for the disease. As such, the goal of treatment is to slow down the development of the condition, and to relieve its associated symptoms. Aside from chemotherapy, there are a variety of other treatment options for MS. In general, treatment depends on the symptoms a person experiences and these symptoms can vary from person to person. Common symptoms of MS include dizziness, fatigue and muscle spasms, while less common symptoms include speech disorders, seizures and tremor.

Medication is the main form of treatment for symptoms, with some reducing the occurrence of symptoms while others reduce the severity of the attacks. Other types of treatments are available as well. For example, a person might need to undergo rehabilitation treatment such as physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. Also, lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise changes, can also play a role in the treatment of MS.

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