Treatment for Specific Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

Treatment for Muscle Weakness, Numbness, and Stiffness

Muscle weakness, numbness, and stiffness (spasticity) may be treated using medication taken regularly or as needed. These drugs include muscle relaxants, such as tizanidine (Zanaflex) and baclofen (Loresal), benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium), and anticonvulsants, such as carbamazepine (Tegretol).

Side effects of baclofen and tizanidine include drowsiness, dizziness, and fatigue. These drugs should not be discontinued abruptly. Carbamazepine may cause severe side effects including aplastic anemia, low white blood cell count (leukopenia), cancer that develops in cells found in blood and lymph (lymphoma), heart failure, and seizures.

Treatment for Fatigue

Fatigue may be treated using amantadine hydrochloride (Symmetrel) or modafinil (Provigil) when frequent napping, adequate sleep at night, and daily exercise do not help. Side effects include nausea, dizziness, and headache.

Treatment for Balance and Equilibrium Abnormalities

Balance and equilibrium abnormalities (e.g., difficulty walking, uncoordinated movements, tremor) may be treated using medications such as benzodiazepines (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), propranolol (Inderal), and mysoline (Primidone). Side effects include drowsiness, confusion, and depression.

Treatment for Bladder Dysfunction

Bladder dysfunction (e.g., incontinence, nocturia) may be treated using medications such as oxybutynin (Ditropan), tolterodine (Detrol), and hyosciarnine (Levsin). Bladder-emptying regimen, intermittent catheterization, and surgery may also be used. Side effects of medication include headache, dry mouth, constipation, and dizziness.

In August 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved onabotulinumtoxin A (BOTOX) injections to treat urinary incontinence caused by multiple sclerosis. This treatment may improve bladder relaxation, increase storage capacity of the bladder and decrease incontinence. The injection is performed using cystoscopy, a procedure in which the health care provider is able to visualize the bladder, and may help reduce incontinence for about 9 months. Adverse reactions include urinary tract infection (UTI) and urinary retention.

Treatment for Constipation

Constipation may be worsened by inactivity. Treatment includes eating a high-fiber diet, increasing fluid intake, daily exercise, and stool softeners. Rectal suppositories or enemas occasionally may be required.

Treatment for Sexual Dysfunction

Sexual dysfunction may occur in men and women with MS. Treatment is available for erectile dysfunction and female sexual dysfunction.

Publication Review By: Jean-Raphael Schneider, M.D.

Published: 31 Dec 1999

Last Modified: 25 Sep 2015