Steroids for MS
Corticosteroids are used as a treatment to manage relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS). Not to be confused with anabolic steroids used by athletes to improve performance, corticosteroids are powerful drugs and have some benefits for treating relapses. These include:
- Reducing inflammation
- Reducing the duration of the relapse
- Speeding up recovery
They can make us recover more quickly, but unfortunately don’t affect the outcome. If we suffer from a particularly nasty flare-up, we can be left with worsened disability even after a course of steroids.
As with all drugs there are alarming side effects to consider before taking steroids. These include:
- Changes in mood (up or down)
- Disrupted sleep pattern (often difficulty in falling asleep)
- Upset stomach or gut — including feeling nauseous
- Heart palpitations (faster than normal heart rate)
- Metallic taste in the mouth
- Increased appetite
- Weight gain (usually short-term)
- Flushing/reddening of the face
- Ankle swelling
Luckily, due to their strength, only a short course is recommended for treating a relapse, so these effects are temporary. However, there are even more side effects associated with prolonged use.
Steroids can also only be used up to three times a year so you need to discuss this with your health care team if you’re having lots of relapses.
How Are Steroids Given?
It’s recommended that steroids be taken as soon as possible after the onset of a relapse. They can be taken either intravenously (through a drip in the hospital if you have difficulty swallowing) or orally.
Due to the strength and side effects of steroids it’s usually not recommended you take them for mild, sensory relapses like tingling or numbness. It’s probably better only to take them when you’re having a particularly nasty, disabling flare-up.