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I get a newsletter from the FDA and in it are all the new drug approvals, which is often exciting to see. We live in a time where we are seeing treatment options advance before our eyes anywhere from new offerings for some condition areas to the first approved medications in others. What a time to be sick! With all the options out there, (if you’re privileged enough to have a condition that has a few options) when, if ever, do you consider changing that medication? I recently decided to change my MS medication and I’d like to share my thought process with you.

What is an effective medication?
In my opinion, the first step to considering a medication change is to assess whether or not it’s effective. Each condition area assesses effectiveness differently, and it’s never a clearly defined thing. With high cholesterol, if you take the medication and it lowers it, that’s an effective medication but most chronic illnesses do not work like this. For MS, a medication is deemed effective if it elongates the time in between your relapses and when really effective, eliminates them. I had my first relapse in 7 years a few months ago and I had been on my current treatment for 2 years. My neurologist and I decided together that instead of waiting around to see if I’d have another while on this medication, that we’d start considering other options. This is not how it works across the board though. Talk to your doctor to understand what remission means and how your medication can factor into that.

When to consider making a change?
Changing medication doesn’t always have to be due to a relapse. I have changed medication in the past to due non-compliance and because some of the newer medication options were much more appealing. When I was first diagnosed with MS the only medication options available were injections and I didn’t do very well on them, so when an oral medication was first released I quickly jumped in line to try it out. Spoiler alert: That one didn’t work out for me.

A medication change can be initiated because of a lifestyle change or even if you’re newly diagnosed with another condition. Depending on your condition, a medication change can be a big deal, that requires lots of planning, pre-testing, insurance approvals and multiple conversations with your doctor so it’s not usually something to be considered lightly. When I went to see my neurologist for my relapse one of the first conversations we had was about my medication, it’s efficacy and what my options would be if I chose to change. Each person is different and every doctor follows their own version of the guidelines, so it’s important to do your own research too. You may not be someone who changes medication after one relapse, but that’s the right move for me. I wasn’t someone who could remember taking two pills a day, so that was not the right move for me. Lots of medication options means we have a better chance at finding something that works for us and with us.

How do you choose a new medication?
Choosing a new medication isn’t as easy as switching brands of ibuprofen, so I highly recommend doing your research. Use the tools that are available to you and talk to other patients, read the clinical trial results, and Google articles about your medications FDA approval. Take into consideration that different doctors treat the same condition differently too when you’re shopping a new medication. I have a neurologist to tends to treat aggressively in hopes of being proactive as opposed to reactionary. I am a patient who is ok with taking some risks so this makes us a good match. You should feel confident in your choice to change medications and if you’re not think about what is holding you back. If you’re nervous, try talking to other patients. If you’re worried about side effects, read the research. If you’re unsure if you can afford it, call your insurance company and see if the drug company offers a patient assistance program. I encourage you to gather all your information and digest it all before making your final choice.

Once you have chosen your new medication, your doctor’s office should communicate with you how to receive it. If it’s as simple as calling in a script over the phone – high five! You’re well on your way to feeling better. But if you need insurance approvals and a speciality pharmacy this process could take days or even weeks. Be patient but don’t be afraid to call in to ask for status updates. It may seem like there are a lot of hoops to jump through on the road to feeling better, but if your medication is effective, it will all be worth it and usually once you’ve received it once, it’s much easier when you need refills or treatments.

Choosing a new medication should be a conversation between both you and your doctor but ultimately the choice is up to you, and being confident in your treatment is so important for physical and mental health.