Multiple Sclerosis (MS) affects 1 million people in the United States, affecting two to three times more women than men. Over the past 10 years there have been significant developments in the treatment of MS. Director of the DENT Multiple Sclerosis Center, Dr. Bennett Myers, discussed what multiple sclerosis is, and how recent advancements in medication are changing the prognosis for those diagnosed with MS.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis is a disease that affects the central nervous system, brain and spinal cord. MS commonly starts in young adulthood, with onset in a person’s 20s and 30s, however MS can occur at any age.
“Although the cause of MS is unclear, it seems to be auto-immune, meaning that the body’s immune system is attacking something it shouldn’t be. In this case, the covering of nerves cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing the neurologic symptoms of MS,” said Dr. Myers.
Two Forms of MS
At the time of diagnosis there are two forms of MS. Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS) and Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (PPMS). 85 percent of people with MS will be diagnosed with RRMS, however sometimes RRMS will convert to secondary progressive MS over time.
“In RRMS, people will develop a neurologic symptom that comes on over the course of a few hours to days, then will generally improve over the course of days to months,” said Dr. Myers.
Symptoms of RRMS can include numbness or tingling, weakness in one arm or one leg, or one entire side of the body. Symptoms can also be visual, a person may see double, or lose vision in one eye. Symptoms can also be more subtle, a person may feel very tired, or like their balance is off, it may be harder to think or to find the right words.
“It is also important to note that unfortunately, a person does not always recover fully after each ‘flare’ of MS,” added Dr. Myers. “When there is inflammation affecting the brain or the spinal cord it does damage. Overtime, this can cause disability, weakness issues, and can affect thinking and memory.”
Primary Progressive MS, the second form of MS, is categorized as a slow gradual accumulation of neurologic disability. This form mostly shows up later in a person’s life, most commonly in the 40s or 50s.
“Many people with PPMS will associate their symptoms with aging. When people are finally diagnosed with PPMS, it is often because something drastic as changed, they may be too weak to climb a flight of stairs, or they begin walking with a limp,” added Dr. Myers
MS Treatment: Treating Symptoms and MS
“When it comes to treating MS, we often talk about treating symptoms,” said Dr. Myers. “If people have pain or fatigue issues, spasticity issues, or even mood issues – depression, anxiety—we certainly treat those symptoms. If you actually have an attack or flare we typically treat that with high doses steroids.”
Disease Modifying Therapies, are medicines that are aimed at treating the underlying disease. In this case these are the medicines that will directly treat the multiple sclerosis by preventing relapses, therefore preventing the disease from getting worse.
“When I was in medical school, back in the mid-1990s, neurologists would tell me don’t go in to multiple sclerosis, there’s nothing you can do for it. That is completely different from how it is now. Now we have so many treatments that have been shown effective in slowing down this disease,” said Dr. Myers.
To learn more about the current medications that are used to treat multiple sclerosis, check out the entire presentation from Dr. Myers below:
The content of this post is intended for general educational and informational purposes only; it does not constitute medical advice. Readers should always consult with a licensed healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment.