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What Are the Different Types of Steroids for MS?

By Jennifer Mackin
Updated May 17, 2024
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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that causes a person's immune system to attack his or her central nervous system. Inflammation in the brain, optic nerve or spine is a result of these attacks. There are steroids for MS that are used to shorten the length of an attack. These steroid supplements are corticosteroid-based and include dexamethasone, methylprednisolone and prednisone.

In the human body, the adrenal glands produce corticosteroids hormones. The hormones prevent inflammation within the body. When an MS attack occurs, the adrenal glands stop working properly. Steroids for MS are used to reduce the inflammation and symptoms that result from the attack.

Depending on the advancement of the disease, MS symptoms can vary. Patients who have infrequent attacks might experience blurred vision, numbness of the extremities or muscles spasms that last for a few days. As the disease progresses, the attacks might become more frequent, and the symptoms might last for months. The symptoms might worsen with each attack. This progression of the disease is called exacerbation of the symptoms and includes slurred speech, trouble swallowing and limited physical motion.

To relieve these symptoms, MS steroid treatments are administered either orally or intravenously — and sometimes both. Depending on the severity of the attack, the physician might give a large dosage of methylprednisolone intravenously for three to five days to get the steroid in the body quicker. Methylprednisolone is usually given by an intravenous (IV) drip or an injection. If needed, dexamethasone or prednisone might be prescribed orally after the IV treatment to help combat any lingering symptoms.

Steroids for MS can cause a wide range of side effects. The severity of the side effects will depend on how often steroid treatments are used and the length of time the steroids are taken. When less-severe attacks require steroid supplements for only a few days, the patient might experience insomnia, anxiety and moodiness. After the steroid treatment is stopped, these side effects normally go away.

Patients who must use steroids for MS on a regular basis might experience more serious side effects. Continued use of steroids can cause puffiness in the face, weight gain and high blood pressure. Other possible side effects include osteoporosis, cataracts and ulcers in the stomach.

Steroids do not stop the progression of multiple sclerosis. The steroids merely help relieve the symptoms of an attack. The repeated use of steroids can cause the drugs to become ineffective at helping with the symptoms.

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