MS and the immune system: a balancing act
If you’ve ever been sick, you’ve definitely experienced your immune system at work. It plays an incredibly important role in fighting illnesses. But how is it affected when you have MS or begin MS treatments?
The immune system and autoimmune disease
The immune system is your body’s natural defense system against harmful substances like viruses, fungi, bacteria, toxins, and foreign particles. When a person’s immune system attacks his or her own body, it’s called an autoimmune disease. MS is a result of this kind of attack.
The immune system and MS treatment
While disease-modifying therapies for relapsing MS are intended to reduce the number of relapses, they also can affect the immune system. Some potential ways that MS therapies may act include:
- Slowing the division of unwanted immune cells
- Boosting the activity of certain T cells (T regulatory cells)
- Changing cytokine profiles of certain T cells (T helper cells)
- Reducing immune cell movement or migration to the CNS (central nervous system)
- Reducing inflammation in the CNS
- Reducing certain immune cell populations
- Reducing immune cell activation
That’s a lot of science to get through—the short story is that MS therapies can potentially change the way your body responds to threats, like a virus for example. It’s also possible that you will experience adverse reactions to medications or interactions with other medicines that you take. Some issues may be noticed right away, while others may not be of immediate concern but can become serious later on.
Factors to consider in your treatment approach
When weighing the risk vs benefit of MS treatments and their potential effect on the immune system, your healthcare provider takes many factors into consideration before prescribing an MS treatment for you. These may include:
- Severity of your MS and degree of physical disability
- Treatment history
- Number and severity of relapses
- Age, sex, race
- Your work and family status
- Personal preferences and goals
There is no single answer to how your immune system will respond, or which type of treatment is right for you. So be sure to talk to your healthcare provider if you have any questions about the effect your medication may have on your immune system.