Alternative treatment (CAM) for MS facts
Fatigue and muscle spasticity are
the symptoms of MS that are best addressed by complementary or alternative
treatment or medicine (CAM).
- Complementary or alternative treatments or therapies that have been
shown to be helpful in helping reduce fatigue include:
- Massage therapy and acupuncture
have been reported by some to provide relief for spasticity.
- Ongoing studies are being conducted to look at the potential benefits of
medical marijuana on MS symptoms; to include chronic pain and spasticity.
Marinol and Sativex, two FDA approved forms of medical marijuana (medical
cannabis) may be beneficial in improving spasticity or bladder frequency.
- People who desire CAM therapies
generally feel that conventional treatments are not effective in controlling
their symptoms or that the side effects are not acceptable.
- Most CAM therapies are not covered
- It is important to discuss the use
of CAM therapies with your health-care professional, since some CAM therapies
may interact adversely with medications.
- CAM has not been shown to have
significant effects on the progression of MS over time.
What is complementary or alternative treatment or CAM?
CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) is care provided in addition
(integrative medicine) to
or instead of traditional or standard medical practices. This group of therapies
is wide-ranging, and includes:
Some people who seek out alternative medicine feel that conventional therapy has
not successfully controlled their symptoms, or that the potential side effects
associated with traditional therapy aren't acceptable. Others find that adding
complementary medicine to their program allows improved control of symptoms.
When complementary medicine is added to traditional routes, it is referred to as
Recent studies through the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC), specifically the National Health Interview Survey, suggest that as many
as 38% of residents within the United States seek out CAM.
Many therapies that are considered within the group of complementary and
alternative medicines haven't been studied extensively or investigated in
comparison to conventional treatment options.
What is of multiple sclerosis (MS)?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that causes demyelination of the brain
and spinal cord, or a loss of the covering around axons. When this occurs, the
axons (the parts of the nerve cells that transmit impulses to other cells) don't
work well. As more areas of the central nervous system are affected by the loss
of myelin, different symptoms develop.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Symptoms
Multiple sclerosis symptoms vary widely, and a description of "typical"
symptoms is difficult. Some signs and symptoms of MS may include:
- Visual disturbances (for example, blurred vision or loss of vision in one eye)
that may be accompanied by eye pain.
- Numbness or tingling in the arms and legs or face
- Difficulties with speech
- Heat intolerance
- Bowel or bladder problems
- Sexual problems
What are the symptoms of MS?
The specific symptom seen in MS is related to
the area of injury in the brain or spinal cord. Examples of symptoms of MS
- a numbness, burning ors tingling feeling, or weakness in certain areas of
the body; the weakness might be mild or severe enough to cause paralysis of
one side of the body;
- bladder and bowel symptoms such as incontinence, difficulty in starting
to urinate, a strong and/or frequent urge to urinate, even loss of control of
the bladder or an inability to empty the bladder;
- eye problems such as eye discomfort, double vision, uncontrollable eye
movements, optic neuritis, and vision loss;
- difficulty moving the arms or legs, difficulty walking, or problems with
coordination and fine motor skills;
in men and a
vaginal dryness (decrease in vaginal
lubrication in women);
- Nerve and brain problems such as dizziness, depression, memory loss,
balance problems, poor judgment, and memory loss; and
- as MS progresses, some patients are left with muscle spasticity, which is an
involuntary painful contraction of some muscles.
What alternative treatments can be used for MS symptoms?
Fatigue and spasticity
Fatigue and spasticity seem to respond best to CAM.
Therapies that have been
shown to be of some benefit for fatigue have included:
- exercise, for example, yoga, ,swimming, walking, and other types of
- magnet therapy; and
- gingko biloba
Spasticity has reportedly been reduced with the use of acupuncture
and massage therapy. A sense of tingling (paresthesias) have been reportedly
improved with reflexology.
Alternative treatments for other MS symptoms
Symptoms including depression, memory loss, urinary incontinence, and
progression of MS itself (including relapses, disease extent as measured on
MRI), and disability have had limited improvement when treated with CAM.
Therapies tested in an effort to improve these symptoms have included:
- bee venom,
- multiple different amino acids,
- alpha lipoic acid, and
- hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
None of these treatments led to any significant
benefit in the studied symptoms.
Quick GuideMultiple Sclerosis (MS) Symptoms and Treatment
What about medical marijuana (cannabis) for MS symptoms?
There have been a number of studies
looking at the potential benefits of medical marijuana (cannabis) on MS
symptoms, including spasticity and chronic pain. There is some suggestion that
FDA approved forms of medical cannabis (Marinol or Sativex) may be beneficial in
improving spasticity or bladder frequency. However, there are no reports that
ingested or inhaled medical marijuana is beneficial for conditions associated with MS.
National Multiple Sclerosis Society has more information about medical
marijuana for MS symptoms (http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Treating-MS/Complementary-Alternative-Medicines/Marijuana)
Who is eligible to pursue treatment with CAM?
Anyone can participate CAM therapy.
However, it is important to recognize that most of these therapies are not
covered by insurance, and may be an "out of pocket" cost for patients with MS.
Patients who decide to pursue CAM need to share this information with their
physicians, as some supplements may interact with convention medication and lead
to side effects.
How much does CAM cost?
The costs of CAM can vary widely; regular exercise and yoga can be low or
no-cost options, while massage therapy, acupuncture, and some supplements can be
quite expensive. Every patient must have a good relationship with treating
health-care professionals of traditional and non-traditional therapies to best
understand potential costs.
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What are the potential risks and side effects of CAM?
Side effects of CAM vary depending on the treatment.
- Patients who have
selected various supplements or dietary measures may experience:
- Some supplements can
increase the risk of bleeding (gingko biloba) or interact with traditional
- Infections may occur when the
skin is punctured, such as with
- Some patients expect CAM to be able to out-perform
conventional treatments, despite a lack of scientific evidence. If this doesn't
occur, patients may feel discouraged.
It is important to discuss any potential or ongoing use of CAM with your
health-care professional, who may need to adjust your current therapies to
prevent any adverse effects caused by interactions between the two types of
What different types of CAM were studied in the National Health Interview
Different types of complementary and alternative medicines that were studied in the National Health Interview Survey from 2002 through 2012
- Chelation therapy
- Chiropractic care
- Energy healing therapy/Reiki
- Special diets: Vegetarian, Vegan, Macrobiotic, others
- Folk medicine
- Guided imagery
- Homeopathic treatment
- Movement therapies: Alexander technique, Feldenkrais, Pilates
- Nonvitamin and nonmineral dietary supplements
- Osteopathic manipulation
- Progressive relaxation
- Qi gong
- Tai chi
- Traditional healers: Botanica, Curandero, Espiritista, Yerbera, Medicine
man, Shaman, others
Medically reviewed by Joseph Carcione, DO; American Board of Psychiatry & Neurology
Clarke TC, Black LI, Stussman BJ, Barnes PM, Nahin, RL. Trends in the Use of Complementary Health Approaches Among Adults: United States, 2002-2012. National Health Statistics Reports. Number 79; February 10, 2015.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society. MS Symptoms.
UpToDate. Patient information: Multiple sclerosis in adults (The Basics).
Yadav V, Bourdette D. Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Is There a Role in Multiple Sclerosis? Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports 2006, 6:259–267.
Yadav V, Bever C, Bowen J, et al. Summary of evidence-basaed guideline: Complementary and alternative medicine in multiple sclerosis. Report of the Guideline Development Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology 2014;82;1083-1092.