By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Multiple sclerosis a leading cause of disability in the United States but new drug guidelines could help patients better manage symptoms.

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Advancements in medications have made it possible to treat people at the first signs of the disease.

MS is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the central nervous system. It can cause symptoms like muscle weakness, vision and emotional problems, as well as difficulties with coordination and thinking.

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skull New Drug Guidelines Could Help Multiple Sclerosis Patients Better Manage Symptoms

Credit: (CBS3)

New research says starting an MS drug as early as possible can lead to better results.

“The previous guideline we had was in 2002 and at that time, we only had a small array of medications for people with MS,” said Dr. Alexander Rae-Grant of Cleveland Clinic. “We now have 17 FDA-approved medicines and so its a much more complicated and exciting landscape.”

Early use of MS drugs can be beneficial because the disease is known to get worse over time.

The new guidelines for treating MS from the American Academy of Neurology also call for more careful monitoring so that medication changes can be made, if necessary.

Damage to the central nervous system as a result of MS cannot be undone but doctors say by taking medications sooner rather than later, some folks may be able to slow the progression of the disease and make day-to-day life more manageable.

“We know that we can’t take away any injury that’s occurred in the time during the disease, so the more we can be preventing things up front, the better we can do,” Dr. Rae-Grant said.

Doctors say some people whose MS is stable may think about stopping their medications since they have no signs of the disease but the new guidelines says very few studies have been done on the benefits or risks of stopping MS drugs.

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That’s something patients need to discuss with their doctors.