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Corticosteroids for Multiple Sclerosis

Corticosteroids for Multiple Sclerosis

Examples

Generic Name Brand Name
dexamethasone  
methylprednisolone Depo-Medrol, Medrol, Solu-Medrol
prednisone  

How It Works

Methylprednisolone, prednisone, and dexamethasone are corticosteroids . These medicines shorten multiple sclerosis (MS) attacks by reducing inflammation .

A high dosage of methylprednisolone may be given through a vein (intravenous, or IV) daily for 3 to 5 days during an MS attack. Prednisone or methylprednisolone may then be given by mouth for several days after the IV treatment.

Why It Is Used

Corticosteroids may be used to treat sudden, severe (acute) MS attacks and acute optic neuritis .

How Well It Works

Treatment with corticosteroids may reduce the symptoms of MS attacks and help you recover more quickly. 1 There is no convincing evidence that corticosteroids can reduce the progression of MS.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Signs of an infection, such as a sore throat, fever, sneezing, or coughing.
  • Belly pain, nausea, or vomiting that won't go away.
  • Bloody or black, tarry stools.
  • Rapid weight gain.
  • Changes in your eyes, including blurred vision or eye pain.
  • Muscle cramps, pain, or weakness.
  • Changes in skin, including acne or reddish purple lines.
  • Increased thirst, especially with frequent urination.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Increased appetite.
  • Nervousness or restlessness.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Some doctors like to use IV corticosteroids to treat MS attacks instead of using corticosteroid pills. This is because there is some evidence that corticosteroid pills may increase the risk for repeated attacks of optic neuritis. But this connection is controversial, and many doctors use corticosteroid pills to treat MS attacks too.

Corticosteroid treatment does not work for everyone. In some people who have severe or frequent attacks, corticosteroids are effective at first but become less helpful after repeated use.

Corticosteroids can keep your immune system from fighting infection. When you are taking this medicine (and even when you have finished taking it), try not to be around people who are sick. And make sure you talk to your doctor before you get any vaccinations.

People who take corticosteroids for more than 2 to 3 months should take calcium and vitamin D supplements or other medicines, such as bisphosphonates, to prevent osteoporosis. For more information, see the Medications section of the topic Osteoporosis. Your doctor may want you to have a bone density test to check for osteoporosis.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

Women who use this medicine during pregnancy have a slightly higher chance of having a baby with birth defects. If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you and your doctor must weigh the risks of using this medicine against the risks of not treating your condition.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

References

Citations

  1. Nicholas R, Chataway J (2009). Multiple sclerosis, search date June 2008. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence : http://www.clinicalevidence.com.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Barrie J. Hurwitz, MD - Neurology
Last Revised May 14, 2012

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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