Dr. Michael Omidi examines the disorder known as Multiple Sclerosis and what a new test may provide in the way of identifying the progression of the disease in patients.
What is Multiple Sclerosis and Who Does it Affect?
Multiple Sclerosis affects roughly 400,000 people in the United States, with an additional 200 individuals being diagnosed every week. Worldwide about 2.1 million people are affected by MS. Multiple sclerosis is caused by the protective covering around nerve cells, known as the myelin sheath, is damaged by inflammation, causing nerve signals to slow down or stop completely. The severity, frequency, and location of these attacks vary for each patient but they can result in:
- Loss of balance
- Muscle spasms
- Issues moving extremities
These are not the only symptoms, in fact there are a multitude of symptoms of which you can find a more comprehensive list here, but the myriad number of symptoms often makes the disorder difficult to diagnose. In many instances diagnosis relies on eliminating other nervous system disorders.
Testing for MS
Although there are new tests that are being engineered to assist in the diagnosis of MS, no single laboratory test currently exists for diagnosis. In ruling out other nervous system disorders doctors may use:
- Lumbar Puncture
- MRI Scan of the Brain
- Nerve Function Study
However, a new test may assist in monitoring the progression of the disorder among patients that have been diagnosed.
Optical Coherence Tomography
The imaging known as Optical Coherence Tomography, a type of eye scan, may be used to help monitor patients with MS. A team of researchers at John Hopkins University School of Medicine conducted a trial involving 164 patients diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and noticed that those patients that exhibited thinning of the retina tended to have earlier and more active MS. The researchers believe that because the nerve cells in the retina are not covered by the protective myelin that the nerves in the retina may indicate the earliest signs of damage caused by MS.
While there is some debate on whether or not this new test will be able to diagnose Multiple Sclerosis in patients, it may help in measuring the effectiveness of new treatments and the progression of the disease. Currently there is no cure for MS, but there are different types of therapies available to slow the progression including:
- Intravenous Immunoglobulin
- Medications for Muscle Spasms
- Antidepressants for Mood or Behavior Symptoms
In most cases the best that can be done is to treat the symptoms with the appropriate medications but, hopefully with this new method of testing, it may help identify those treatments that aid in slowing the progress of the disease.
By Dr. Michael Omidi