Picture how many men and women it would take to fill Lambeau Field. Now picture five full Lambeau Fields. That’s the number of people in the United States who have multiple sclerosis — about 400,000.
Multiple sclerosis often affects a person’s strength and coordination. It may also affect vision, hearing, sensation, balance, swallowing, speaking and thinking. MS may be mild or severe. Symptoms may come and go.
Multiple sclerosis is an immune mediated nervous system disease. The immune system attacks the myelin of the brain and spinal cord as if it were an invader such as a bacteria or virus. Myelin allows the nerves to conduct their impulses efficiently.
The cause of MS is unknown. There is a genetic predisposition for developing MS. There is also an environmental exposure, possibly a virus. Vitamin D deficiency also plays a role in developing multiple sclerosis.
MS is often diagnosed in people between the age of 20 and 40 years.
There are different types of multiple sclerosis. The most common type is relapsing/remitting, which includes 80 percent of the patient’s initially diagnosed with MS.
Ten to 15 percent of MS patients have what’s called primary progressive multiple sclerosis. With this type of MS, there is no significant improvement and only gradual accumulation of symptoms. Up until now there has been no proven treatment for primary progressive MS.
There is currently no cure for MS. However, there are medications that do reduce the frequency of MS relapses. To some degree they also slow the progression of multiple sclerosis symptoms.
Treatment effectiveness varies with each individual. The current medications used for relapsing forms of MS include injections, oral pills, IV infusions (intravenous injections) and forms of chemotherapy.
Acute worsening of multiple sclerosis symptoms are often treated with IV or oral steroids or plasma exchange. Plasma exchange is sometime called plasmapheresis. With this treatment, the liquid component of the patient’s blood is replaced with plasma from a donor or a plasma substitute.
The intravenous medication called ocrelizumab, brand name Ocrevus, was recently approved for the treatment of primary progressive MS. In a clinical trial, ocrelizumab slowed clinical and radiographic progression of multiple sclerosis compared to a placebo. This is the first and only medication that is FDA approved for the treatment of primary progressive multiple sclerosis.
Ocrelizumab has also been approved for the treatment of relapsing multiple sclerosis. In the OPERA I and OPERA II trials, ocrelizumab lowered the rate of MS clinical activity and progression more than a standard injectable medication for multiple sclerosis (Rebif) over 96 weeks of treatment.
Ocrelizumab is also given intravenously every six months for both relapsing and primary progressive multiple sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis symptoms are unpredictable and not everyone will have the same symptoms. Here are some common symptoms:
If you notice these symptoms, make an appointment to see a health care professional. You may be referred to a neurologist for a more definitive diagnosis. A neurologist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating problems of the central nervous system.
Multiple sclerosis may be difficult to diagnose. There’s no single test to diagnose this disease. Your health care professional may use a number of approaches including a medical history review, physical exam including a neurological exam and most likely an MRI.
If you have questions about multiple sclerosis, its symptoms or treatment, see your health care professional. As with many medical conditions, early diagnosis improves chances for successful treatment.