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Multiple Sclerosis

Welcome to the BARLO Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Centre at St. Michael’s Hospital. Located on the 16th and 17th floors of the new Peter Gilgan Patient Care Tower, the clinic is one of the largest of its kind in North America and one of only seven adult centres in Ontario focusing on diagnosis and treatment of MS.

The clinic is staffed by neurology specialists and takes a multidisciplinary approach to MS care that includes, but is not limited to, health disciplines such as nursing, occupational and physical therapy, pharmacy and social work. The team sees more than 10,000 patients and is committed to providing excellence in patient care, research and education.

The information below is intended to help you prepare for your upcoming appointment. To learn more about the clinic and about MS, please visit the BARLO MS Centre website.

October 2023 update

We recommend that patients with MS receive influenza vaccination with the flu shot annually, unless there is a specific contraindication (e.g., prior severe reaction).

FluMist® is a live-virus flu vaccine (sometimes called LAIV for “live attenuated influenza vaccine”) that is delivered via a nasal spray. This live-virus vaccine is not recommended for people with MS.

Patients with MS who are experiencing a relapse including those receiving steroids should wait at least four weeks before receiving their flu shot.

Contact us

30 Bond St. – Peter Gilgan Tower- 16th floor

The closest entrance to the MS Clinic is located near the corner of Queen Street East and Victoria Street, on the main floor of the Peter Gilgan Tower (PGT).

416-864-5377
Fax: 416-864-5378
Monday to Friday, 8 am to 4 pm

Reception desk at the BARLO MS Centre at St. Michael's Hospital.


Multiple Sclerosis at St. Michael's Hospital

Please see below for important information for new and existing patients.

What is a relapse?

A relapse, also called an attack or exacerbation, leads to new or worsening neurological symptoms lasting at least 24 to 48 hours due to new inflammation in the central nervous system, with no fever or infection.

A pseudo-relapse can cause temporary worsening of prior symptoms due to things like an illness, infection, stress, or getting too hot, without new inflammation in the central nervous system.

If you are having a relapse, you may have symptoms like:

  • Vision loss
  • Double vision
  • Numbness/tingling
  • Weakness of your arms or legs
  • Clumsiness of your arms or legs
  • Feeling off balance
  • Trouble walking

What should I do if I think I am having a relapse?

  • If you have a fever or infection, go to your family doctor, an urgent care clinic, or an Emergency Department (ED). They can evaluate for infection or systemic illness causing a pseudo-relapse.

If I am not a patient of the MS Clinic at St. Michael’s Hospital?*

  • If you do not have a fever or infection and your symptoms continue or get worse for more than 24 to 48 hours, contact your neurologist.
  • If you have severe symptoms such as blindness, inability to walk, severe weakness, or if you cannot reach your doctor and are concerned about ongoing worsening, go to the ED.

If I am a patient of the MS Clinic at St. Michael’s Hospital?

  • If you do not have a fever or infection and your symptoms continue or get worse for more than 24 to 48 hours, contact the MS Clinic Symptom Reporting Line at 416-864-5333 and leave a message. All messages are screened by a nurse and returned in order of priority.
  • If you have severe symptoms such as blindness, inability to walk, severe weakness, or if you cannot reach a nurse or your doctor and are concerned about ongoing worsening, go to the ED.

What happens after I talk to a nurse on the MS Symptom Reporting Line?

The nurse will talk to your neurologist or another neurologist who is on call.

We may ask you to come in to see either your neurologist, a nurse practitioner or another doctor in the relapse clinic.

*The MS Clinic at St. Michael’s can only respond to people who are registered patients in the clinic.

How will you treat my relapse?

If your relapse is mild, we will watch and see if your symptoms improve on their own without any treatment.

If your relapse is affecting your day-to-day function, we may suggest high dose steroids to help decrease the inflammation in your central nervous system, as long as an infection is ruled out.

What do steroids do?

Steroids decrease inflammation in your central nervous system and speed up recovery from a relapse. However, steroids are not proven to change the final level of recovery and are therefore not necessary for every relapse.

How are steroids given?

Steroids can be given by intravenous infusion or by mouth, and are usually given for 3 to 5 days.

What are the side effects of steroids?

Though steroids are usually safe to take for short periods of time, some side effects can include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Mood changes
  • Upset stomach
  • Acne
  • Lower immunity which can increase the risk of infections (including COVID-19)
  • High blood pressure or blood sugar
  • Bone damage (this is rare but can be serious)

If you need steroids often or for a longer period of time, there may be additional side effects like loss of bone density, diabetes, changes in fat distribution (like rounding of the face), thin skin, stomach ulcers and/or eye problems.

What if steroids don’t work?

Symptoms of a relapse may not completely resolve even with steroids, but relapse symptoms usually improve to a certain extent with time.

If your symptoms are severe (for instance, if you are unable to see or walk) and do not go away, your neurologist may admit you to the hospital for other treatments.

Disease Modifying Therapy for MS

Our team may discuss Disease Modifying Therapy (DMT) options with you. DMT options may include oral, injectable, or infusion therapies.

DMTs for relapsing remitting MS help reduce the chance of new MS relapses and new lesions in your brain and spinal cord on MRI. These therapies may also decrease the risk of accumulating disability from RRMS.

DMTs for primary or secondary progressive MS may help decrease the rate of progression of your MS symptoms.

DMT coverage can be obtained through a private drug plan and/or through the public Trillium Drug Program in Ontario.

Please apply for the Trillium Drug Program if:

  • You are planning to start DMT for MS now or in the future AND
  • You do not have a private drug plan OR your private drug plan does not adequately cover the cost of your prescription medications.

The Trillium Drug Program is available for Ontario residents who have high prescription drug costs in relation to their net household income. DMTs for MS can be costly BUT a significant portion of the cost can often be covered for patients who are part of the Trillium Drug Program.

To apply online please visit the Trillium Drug Program.

Trillium Drug Program Application Forms and Guides are available at local pharmacies, online, or by calling 416-642-3038 or 1-800-575-5386 (toll free).

What should I do before my first appointment?

Here are some helpful tips:

  • We will call you 1 week before your appointment to let you know if it will be in-person, by phone or by computer.
  • When we call, ask if you can bring someone with you (if you wish to).
  • If your MRI was done outside of St. Michael’s Hospital, send us the images. If your images are stored on PocketHealth, you can email them to us at msclinicforms@unityhealth.to (see Other resources below). Otherwise, bring your images on a CD.
  • Make a list of your concerns, symptoms or questions.

What should I bring to my first appointment?

When you come for your appointment, wear comfortable clothing and footwear and remember to bring:

  • Your Ontario Health card (OHIP).
  • A pen and some paper in case you want to take notes.
  • A list of all your medicines, pharmacy phone and fax numbers.
  • Your immunization (vaccine) records.
  • Your dentures, eyeglasses and any walking aids you may have.

What will happen at my first appointment?

When you come for your first visit:

  • You will see a neurologist, and possibly a nurse practitioner or medical trainee. For more information on our team, see Your MS team below.
  • We will ask about your medical history and any medicines you take.
  • We will examine you and review any MRI images and other test results you have.
  • We will work together to build a plan and talk about what happens next.
  • We may order more blood tests and book an MRI or an evoked potential test for another day.
  • You may also see a clinic nurse, occupational therapist, physiotherapist, or pharmacist. For a full list of the health care team and their roles, see Your MS team below.

If you have to cancel or reschedule your appointment, call 416-864-5377 between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday to Friday. Please give us at least one week’s notice if you need to change your appointment.

Getting MRIs from outside facilities

MRI images obtained outside of St. Michael’s Hospital should be sent to our clinic so they can be uploaded and viewed by your neurologist. To retrieve your images, please contact the hospital where the MRI was obtained. The process may include:

  • PocketHealth: Electronic system to share MRI results
  • CD: Provide to the front desk at check in.

What do I bring to follow-up appointments?

When you come for your appointment, remember to bring:

  • Your Ontario Health card (OHIP).
  • A list of your current medicines, pharmacy phone and fax numbers.
  • A list of any new immunizations (vaccines) and their dates.
  • Your eyeglasses.
  • A family member or friend if you wish (ask about our policy when we call to confirm your appointment).

How do I renew my prescriptions?

Get your pharmacy to fax a renewal request to us at 416-864-5378 at least 2 weeks before you are due to run out.

Depending on the medicines you take, you may need to:

  • Have bloodwork done before your neurologist can renew your prescription.
  • Call your specialty pharmacy if your medicines come from there (for example, McKesson, Bioscript).
  • Contact the patient support program responsible for your treatment if you require assistance.

Who do I contact if I have medical forms that need to be completed?

Your family doctor can complete most of your forms. If the form needs to be completed by a specialist, talk to your neurologist or their administrative assistant.

How do I get my lab test results?

Your neurologist will review your lab work if they ordered it. This may take up to 2 to 3 weeks. If your results show something that needs follow-up, a nurse or your neurologist will call you. Otherwise, we will review them with you at your next appointment.

How do I get my MRI results?

If your neurologist ordered an MRI, they will discuss the results with you at your next visit. Our nursing staff cannot tell you the results.

Please do not contact our nursing staff to ask about your lab or MRI results. We cannot answer your questions unless your neurologist has asked us to call you.

When is my next visit?

Your neurologist will decide whether you need a follow-up in a certain number of months or after you have had tests done. The date for your next visit will be sent to you by mail.

I have questions about my medication

If you want to get started on the MS medication your neurologist recommended, call your neurologist’s office to book an enrollment appointment.

If you have concerns or are experiencing side effects to your MS medication, call the MS Symptom Reporting Line at 416-864-5333 and leave a message. All messages are screened by a nurse and returned in order of priority.

NOTE: If you are having a serious allergic reaction, get medical help immediately.

I have new or worsening neurologic symptoms

See MS relapses (above) for more information on relapses.

I have a fever, infection, or other medical issues

Call your family physician, go to urgent care, or visit your nearest emergency room depending on the urgency of your symptoms.

I need to make an appointment

Call 416-864-5377 and we will direct you from there.

We cannot talk to you about your symptoms or medicines if you contact us by email. Please phone the MS Clinic Symptom Reporting Line instead at 416-864-5333.

Director : Dr. Jiwon Oh

Neurologists: Specialize in diagnosis and treatment of MS. Our neurologists are affiliated with St. Michael’s Hospital and the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto.

Our neurologists are affiliated with St. Michael’s Hospital and the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto.

MS clinic fellows, residents, and students: St. Michael’s Hospital is a teaching hospital. In addition to your neurologist, you may also see a fellow (neurologist in training to become an expert in MS), resident (doctor training to be a neurologist), or medical student (training to become a doctor).

Neuropsychiatrists: Specialize in cognition, depression and anxiety.

Physiatrists: Specialize in managing many symptoms to improve function, such as stiffness and walking.

Nurse Practitioner (NP): Provides care and collaborates with your neurologist and the clinical team.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS): Provides support in maintaining clinical excellence by working collaboratively with your MS team.

Registered Nurse (RN): Provides education about medications, resources and supports. They will discuss any new symptoms or medication side effects and tell your neurologist.

Physiotherapist (PT): Helps with your strength, flexibility, balance, movement and other skills to help manage your symptoms. This may include exercises and devices such as a walking aids.

Occupational Therapist (OT): Helps you manage your day-to-day activities and overcome obstacles you may be having. They recommend splints or orthotics, suggest exercises, check your home safety, and provide resources.

Social Worker: Provides support, counseling and resources to help with personal issues that may be related to work, money or other challenges.

Drug Access Navigator: Helps access coverage for medications.

Clerical staff: Schedules appointments, checks on referrals or helps to direct your questions.

Physician Administrative Assistant: Schedules referrals, appointments and follow-ups. They also help with questions and prescription renewals.

Research Coordinator: Coordinates research studies, meets with those interested in participating in research, enrolls patients in studies, arranges study visits and collects study data.

Pharmacist: Provides education and support related to medicines.

Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP): Evaluates language, speech and swallowing. We do not have a dedicated SLP but can refer you to one.

Home and Community Care Support Services: You may be referred for home care services for Personal Support Worker (PSW), nursing, OT, PT, SLP, dietician or social work.

Access to St. Michael’s Hospital health records

Online:

MyChart is an electronic system that allows you to access your doctor’s notes, lab results and MRI reports online.

To learn more, call 416-864-5450 or visit the MyChart page.

In person:

To get a copy of your health records, you must submit a Consent to Disclose Personal Health Information Form.

To learn more, call 416-864-6060 ext. 2169 or to access the form, visit the Health Records page.

MS Canada

MS Canada (previously Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada) has information on treatment options (including DMTs), support groups and the latest MS research. They also have MS Navigators to guide and support you.

To learn more, call 1-800-268-7582, email info@mssociety.ca or visit mssociety.ca.

BARLO MS Centre website

The BARLO MS Centre has a dedicated website with more information on MS, your care team and additional resources. Please access the website via https://msbarlo.unityhealth.to/

Department Phone number Location
BARLO MS Centre
St. Michael’s Hospital
30 Bond Street
Toronto, ON M5B 1W8
416-864-5377 16th floor – Peter Gilgan Tower

 

BARLO MS Centre –
MS Symptom Reporting Line
416-864-5333 16th floor – Peter Gilgan Tower
MRI 416-864-5661 B2 – Cardinal Carter Wing South
Medical Imaging (X-Ray) 416-864-5656 3rd floor – Cardinal Carter Wing South

Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Outpatient Blood Lab 2nd floor – Cardinal Carter Wing North

Monday to Friday 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

*If going to the lab from the BARLO MS Centre, you must take PGT elevator to B1 then follow the blue line to the Cardinal Carter elevator. Take this to 2nd floor.

Medical Records

(release of information)

416-864-6060 ext. 2168 or 2169 3rd Floor – Cardinal Carter Wing North

Monday to Friday 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Outpatient Pharmacy 416-864-5110 B1 (Ground Floor) – Donnelly Wing,

Room B1-038

Data continues to show that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective in protecting from the impact of COVID-19 for those with multiple sclerosis (MS) and other neuro-immunological disorders.

We recommend that all persons with MS and other neuro-immunological disorders get their COVID-19 vaccine when eligible to receive it, since the risks of COVID-19 infection appear to outweigh the potential risks of the vaccine.

We recommend that all of our patients follow provincial recommendations regarding the COVID vaccines. Starting in the spring of 2023, an additional booster dose may be offered 6 or more months from the last COVID-19 vaccine dose or infection to the following individuals who are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19: (Discretionary NACI recommendation)

  • Adults 80 years of age and older
  • Adults 65 to 79 years of age, particularly if they do not have a known history of SARS-CoV-2 infection
  • Adult residents of long-term care homes and other congregate living settings for seniors or those with complex medical care needs
  • Adults 18 years of age and older who are moderately to severely immunocompromised.

This guide is based on data from vaccine clinical trials of the general population and data from studies of other vaccines in MS. We will continue to update the guide as new studies emerge.

The statements in this guide are in line with recommendations by:

The following statements have been approved by the neurologists at the St. Michael’s Hospital MS Clinic. They are intended to be used as guidance statements regarding COVID-19 vaccination for people with MS (pwMS) and other neuro-immunological disorders.

  • While people using anti-CD20 agents and S1P receptor agnostic medications may have a reduced vaccine response, vaccination still provides some protection against the most serious complications of COVID-19.
  • When compared to vaccine side effects in the general population, persons with MS have a similar side effect response.
  • The currently available vaccines (COVID-19 vaccines currently approved for use in Canada) do not contain live virus and will not cause COVID-19 infection. We have no reason to believe these COVID-19 vaccines will be dangerous for people with MS, including those on immunosuppressive drugs.
  • It is unlikely that these vaccines will worsen MS or its symptoms, provoke a relapse, or prevent disease modifying therapies (DMTs) from being effective.
  • Patients should stay up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines unless their MS treatment requires a delay (see below). This is because there is a higher risk for hospitalization due to COVID-19 among: people with progressive MS, those who are older, those who have a higher level of physical disability, those with certain medical conditions (e.g., diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, heart and lung disease), and those on ocrelizumab and rituximab.
  • It is important to continue your disease modifying therapy (DMT) unless advised by your MS healthcare provider to stop or delay it. Stopping some DMTs abruptly can cause your MS to worsen. We do not generally advise people to change their MS treatment to increase the efficacy of vaccines, because the potential harm would outweigh the potential benefit. Even a reduced response is better than none. You should still get vaccinated when eligible, even if on these therapies.

For more information please see NACI recommendations for COVID-19 boosters.

The bivalent COVID-19 vaccine booster is currently available to anyone over the age of 12 on Ontario.

All adults (even those not in a vulnerable population) can book an appointment through the COVID-19 vaccination portal or by calling the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre (PVCC) at 1-833-943-3900. Eligible individuals can also book an appointment directly through public health units that use their own booking systems, indigenous-led vaccination clinics, participating health care providers and participating pharmacies.

Timing COVID-19 vaccines and specific MS medications

For people with MS on Ocrevus, Kesimpta, and Mavenclad, we generally recommend following our prior recommendations regarding timing of the COVID vaccine dose in relation to dosing of the medication. Further questions regarding fourth COVID vaccine doses should be directed to the treating neurologist.

Here are some general recommendations regarding the timing of COVID-19 vaccines and specific medications. Your treating neurologist may make adjustments, as needed.

For those taking:

ocrelizumab (Ocrevus) or rituximab (Rituxan)

  • You may need to coordinate the timing of your vaccine with the timing of your next dose:
  • We generally recommend getting the COVID-19 vaccine 4 to 5 months after your last dose.
  • When you get notice that you will be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, let the infusion support program know (COMPASS).
  • Your treating neurologist may recommend adjusting the timing of your next dose of Ocrevus or Rituxan.
  • After you complete the COVID-19 vaccine schedule (this may require 2 doses), you can receive the next dose of Ocrevus or Rituxan 2 to 4 weeks later.

ofatumumab (Kesimpta)

  • You may need to coordinate the timing of your vaccine with the timing of your next dose.
  • We generally recommend getting the COVID-19 vaccine 2 to 4 weeks after your last dose.
  • After you complete the COVID-19 vaccine schedule, you can get the next dose of Kesimpta 2 to weeks later.
  • When you get notice that you will be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, please let the patient support program know (GO program). Your treating neurologist may recommend adjusting the timing of your next dose.

cladribine tablets (Mavenclad)

  • The COVID-19 vaccine should be taken 3 to 6 months after the last dose, ideally when lymphocyte counts have recovered.
  • If you are due for Treatment Cycle 2 of Mavenclad, you may want to discuss delaying Cycle 2 until you have received the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • When you get notice that you will be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, please let the Mavenclad support program know (Adveva).
  • Your treating neurologist will may recommend adjusting the timing of your next dose.
  • If you have completed 2 treatment cycles of Mavenclad, and it has been more than 6 months after the last tablet of Cladribine, and your lymphocyte counts have recovered, we would recommend that you get the COVID-19 vaccine when available to you, as long as you do not have any other contraindications.

alemtuzumab (Lemtrada)

  • We recommend getting the COVID-19 vaccine 3 to 6 months after the last dose, ideally when your lymphocyte counts have recovered.
  • If you are due for Treatment Cycle 2, you may want to discuss delaying this until you have received the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • When you receive notification that you will be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, please let the Lemtrada support program know (One to One).
  • Your treating neurologist may recommend adjusting the timing of your next dose.
  • If you have completed 2 treatment cycles of Lemtrada, and it has been more than 6 months after the last dose, and your lymphocyte counts have recovered, we would recommend that you get the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to you, as long as you do not have any other contraindications.

In some cases, after discussion with you, your neurologist may recommend that you get the COVID-19 vaccine first, before starting to take Ocrevus, Kesimpta, Mavenclad, or Lemtrada. However, for patients with very active MS, there is a risk that the disease will progress if you delay treatment. This risk may outweigh the risk of COVID-19 infection. This decision will consider the evolving evidence on public vaccination.

For patients on fingolimod (Gilenya or generic fingolimod), ozanimod (Zeposia), or siponimod (Mayzent) your response to the COVID-19 vaccine may be decreased. However, we would recommend that you still get the vaccine, as long as you do not have any other contraindications. This is because even a reduced response is better than none.

For patients on azathioprine (Imuran), mycophenolate mofetil (Cellcept), or daily prednisone the response to the COVID-19 vaccine may be decreased. However, we would recommend that you still get the vaccine (as long as you do not have any other contraindications). This is because even a reduced response is better than none.

Most other disease-modifying treatments do not appear to interfere with vaccine responses, including glatiramer acetate (Copaxone and Glatect), teriflunomide (Aubagio), dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera), interferon beta agents (Avonex, Plegridy, Rebif, Betaseron, Extavia), and natalizumab (Tysabri). If you are taking these medications, we recommend getting the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is available to you, as long as you do not have any other contraindications.

For patients who recently received high-dose steroids for a relapse (intravenous methylprednisolone [solumedrol]) or high-dose prednisone (1000-1250 mg daily for 3 to 5 days), we would recommend delaying the COVID vaccine until 2 to 4 weeks after the last dose.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

The safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines are unclear in pregnant and breastfeeding women. However, pregnant and breastfeeding women may be at a higher risk of COVID-19 and complications. Persons with MS or other neuro-immunological disorders who are pregnant or breastfeeding should discuss COVID-19 vaccination with all their health care providers, including their obstetrician, family doctor and neurologist.

Additional information

For patients who have a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection, we recommend that you use this self-assessment tool (link below) for further direction/recommendations and to assess your eligibility for available therapies to prevent severe COVID-19 illness.  The second link below will direct you to COVID-19 assessment and potential treatment sites near you:

And finally….

Vaccination with the COVID-19 vaccine does not guarantee immunity to COVID-19. Even after being vaccinated, we strongly recommend that all of our patients continue to remain cautious and follow all public health precautions. Continue to wear a face mask, wash your hands and use social distancing to protect yourself and slow the spread of the virus.

In accordance with Ontario Health recommendations, we are no longer recommending Evusheld in people with MS.  Please refer to the following links for additional information.

Clinics & Services

The BARLO Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Centre is one of the largest of its kind in North America, and one of seven adult centres in Ontario focusing on diagnosis and treatment. The clinic is staffed by MS neurology specialists and accommodates more than 10,000 patients from the Greater Toronto Area.

View Multiple Sclerosis Clinic

Last updated May 15, 2024