What is MS?

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with relapsing multiple sclerosis, here are five things you'll want to know right now.

What does MS mean?

Sometimes it can be hard to understand exactly what multiple sclerosis (MS) does inside the body. Here are two explanations, one in everyday language and the other more scientific.

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In Other Words

MS is a disease where your body attacks itself, specifically the fatty coating called the myelin sheath on nerves in the brain, spinal cord, and eye area. This causes many scars to develop, which prevent the nerves from communicating as they should. This communication breakdown creates a range of symptoms from mild to severe, and from temporary to permanent.

No two people experience MS exactly the same way. Certain treatments (disease-modifying drugs) can help slow the progression of disability associated with MS, and the time between relapses varies greatly. Currently, there is no cure. People with MS have it for life.

Some Science

The central nervous system (CNS) is made up of nerve cells that send signals to each other. Each nerve cell is covered with a protective coating called myelin. Myelin acts as a conductor in helping signals move at high speeds from one end of the nerve cell to the other.

In multiple sclerosis, disease activity damages the myelin in a process called demyelination. Demyelination results in lesions that lead to a breakdown in signal transmissions. The symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) are a result of this communication breakdown. Disease activity can also damage the underlying nerve cell, which may lead to permanent symptoms and disability.

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Types of MS

There are four different types of disease courses in MS. A “course” means the way the disease affects the body over time. It can be helpful to understand the differences between them, especially for conversations with your doctor.

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Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS)

Approximately 85% of people with multiple sclerosis are diagnosed with this type. In RRMS, people have clearly defined periods that alternate between remission and relapse. A relapse is also called an exacerbation, an attack, or a flare-up. During the relapse period, MS symptoms worsen and new ones may appear. These relapses are followed by a long or short period of remission when symptoms partially or completely go away. There is no way to predict the remission/relapse time frames.

Learn about the benefits of one treatment option for relapsing-remitting MS

Secondary-Progressive MS (SPMS)

Another type of multiple sclerosis is secondary-progressive MS (SPMS). Some people, following an initial period with relapsing MS, may develop this type in which symptoms and disability get progressively worse. It is less common to have periods of remission/relapse here.

Rebif® (interferon beta-1a) is not indicated for the treatment of secondary-progressive MS.

It is impossible for your doctor to predict if or when an individual with relapsing MS will progress to SPMS.

Primary-Progressive MS

This type occurs in about 10% of people living with multiple sclerosis. Typically, people living with primary-progressive MS experience a slow but steady worsening of the disease from its onset, with no distinct periods of relapse or remission. The rate of progression varies for people with primary-progressive multiple sclerosis and may even include periods of temporary minor improvement.

Rebif is not indicated for the treatment of primary-progressive MS.

Progressive-Relapsing MS

This type is also characterized by a steady worsening of the disease. Unlike people living with primary-progressive MS, people living with progressive-relapsing MS typically experience acute periods of relapse from which they may or may not recover. This is a relatively rare type of multiple sclerosis, occurring in approximately 5% of people living with MS.

Rebif is not indicated for the treatment of progressive-relapsing MS.

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What causes MS?

The cause of MS is currently unknown. It is generally believed that MS is an autoimmune disease. Normally, your immune system helps to fight foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria. In an autoimmune disease, something triggers the immune system to attack itself.

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Some scientists think that multiple sclerosis may be triggered by an infection—probably a virus. It is thought that this trigger may activate the production of T cells, which are a type of white blood cell. Once activated, the T cells start to multiply and cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB) to the brain and spinal cord. The T cells are thought to then begin a process that attacks and damages nerve cells in the central nervous system (CNS).

If there is a viral connection to multiple sclerosis, it is believed that the virus triggers a genetic predisposition to the disease, which means that exposure to a virus is just one factor for why someone might develop multiple sclerosis. There is also no evidence to support the idea that MS is contagious.

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How is MS diagnosed?

There is no single test for MS. This is why it’s important to see a neurologist who specializes in treating MS when being evaluated. He or she will be able to rule out other conditions that can appear like MS, but are not. Lupus, brain infections, and multiple strokes are a few conditions that are sometimes misdiagnosed as MS.

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An MRI is an important tool to help confirm a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. However, there are some MS patients who do not have visible lesions on an MRI. A detailed medical history and various neurological tests are also part of determining an MS diagnosis.

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What is a relapse?

A relapse is when symptoms worsen or new ones appear for at least 24 hours. If symptoms last for only a few hours, it may be part of MS but not a relapse. There is no way to know how long a relapse will last. Afterward, symptoms may partially or completely go away. This period is called remission. A relapse is also known by the terms exacerbation, attack, or flare-up.

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Rebif® (interferon beta-1a) is used to treat relapsing forms of MS to decrease the frequency of relapses and delay the occurrence of some of the physical disability that is common in people with MS.

Important Safety Information

Before beginning treatment, you should discuss the potential benefits and risks associated with Rebif with your healthcare provider.

Rebif can cause serious side effects. Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the symptoms listed below while taking Rebif.

  • Behavioral health problems, including depression and suicidal thoughts. You may have mood problems including depression (feeling hopeless or feeling bad about yourself), and thoughts of hurting yourself or suicide
  • Liver problems or worsening of liver problems, including liver failure. Symptoms may include nausea, loss of appetite, tiredness, dark colored urine and pale stools, yellowing of your skin or the white part of your eye, bleeding more easily than normal, confusion, and sleepiness. During your treatment with Rebif you will need to see your healthcare provider regularly and have regular blood tests to check for side effects
  • Serious allergic and skin reactions. Symptoms may include itching, swelling of your face, eyes, lips, tongue or throat, trouble breathing, anxiousness, feeling faint, skin rash, hives, sores in your mouth, or skin blisters and peels
  • Injection site problems. Symptoms at the injection site may include redness, pain, swelling, color changes (blue or black), and drainage of fluid
  • Blood problems. Rebif can affect your bone marrow and cause low red and white blood cell and platelet counts. In some people, these blood cell counts may fall to dangerously low levels. If your blood cell counts become very low, you can get infections and problems with bleeding and bruising. Your healthcare provider may ask you to have regular blood tests to check for blood problems
  • Seizures. Some people have had seizures while taking Rebif

Rebif will not cure your MS but may decrease the number of flare-ups of the disease and slow the occurrence of some of the physical disability that is common in people with MS.

Do not take Rebif if you are allergic to interferon beta, human albumin, or any of the ingredients in Rebif.

Before you take Rebif, tell your healthcare provider if you have or have had any of the following conditions:

  • mental illness, including depression and suicidal behavior
  • liver problems, bleeding problems or blood clots, low blood cell counts, seizures (epilepsy), or thyroid problems
  • you drink alcohol
  • you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. It is not known if Rebif will harm your unborn baby. Tell your healthcare provider if you become pregnant during your treatment with Rebif
  • you are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. It is not known if Rebif passes into your breast milk. You and your healthcare provider should decide if you will use Rebif or breastfeed. You should not do both

Tell your healthcare provider about all medicines you take, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and herbal supplements.

The most common side effects of Rebif include:

  • flu-like symptoms. You may have flu-like symptoms when you first start taking Rebif. You may be able to manage these flu-like symptoms by taking over-the-counter pain and fever reducers. For many people, these symptoms lessen or go away over time. Symptoms may include muscle aches, fever, tiredness, and chills
  • stomach pain
  • change in liver blood tests

Tell your healthcare provider if you have any side effect that bothers you or that does not go away.

These are not all the possible side effects of Rebif. For more information, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist.

Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects.

Refer to the Instructions for Use that comes with the Rebif® Rebidose® (interferon beta-1a) autoinjector.

This information is not intended to replace discussions with your doctor. For additional information about Rebif, please consult the Prescribing Information and Medication Guide and talk to your doctor. You can also visit rebif.com or call, toll-free, 1-877-447-3243. Rebif is available by prescription only.

Rebif, Rebif Rebidose, Rebiject II, MS LifeLines, and the Rebif logo are registered trademarks of EMD Serono, Inc. or its affiliates.

Brought to you by EMD Serono, Inc., the marketer of Rebif in the US.

This information is intended only for residents of the United States.