UNDERSTANDING MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a sometimes devastating autoimmune disease that attacks the white matter of the central nervous system (brain, optic nerves and spinal cord). It is a very common disease, striking one in 1,000 people in the US. There is no cure, although there are treatments that slow the process in some patients. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), anyone can develop MS, but the typical person is between the ages of 20-50 and of Northern European descent. Women are two to three times more likely to develop MS than men. About 400,000 Americans acknowledge having MS. Worldwide that number may be 2.5 million.
MS can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including tingling, numbness, weakness, vision problems and paralysis. As the disease progresses, symptoms can worsen or expand to other areas.
TREATING MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS
The past 20 years have seen great improvements in the diagnosis of the disease and its treatment. Medications can now decrease the number of attacks and slow down their damage in some patients. Imaging techniques such as MRIs enable much quicker diagnosis—and earlier treatment—in most patients.
MS cannot be cured, but treatments to improve symptoms can be very valuable. We believe that our multidisciplinary team can improve the lifestyle of our patients so that they can maximize the use of body functions that are healthy. Symptomatic treatments, for example, can decrease pain, stiffness, tremor, fatigue, and improve bowel and bladder function and activities of daily living in general. We also continue to do research on exciting new medications that relieve symptoms and improve nervous system functioning in MS patients, including some that are not yet FDA-approved.
The cause of MS is unknown. White blood cells enter the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord, optic nerves) and ultimately cause destruction of myelin, which covers nerve fibers. When myelin is damaged, nerves in the central nervous system do not conduct electrical signals normally, leading to problems with motor skills, sensory perceptions, coordination or other functions. In many cases, not only is the myelin destroyed or injured, but so are the nerve fibers, causing permanent disability.
Research at the John L. Trotter Multiple Sclerosis Center goes from the cell culture stage, to mice with a model of MS, to research on human cells and tissues to clinical trials of new therapies. Clinical trials are currently looking at new drugs, different formulations of older drugs, and improved imaging of the nervous system in MS patients.
For a referral to a Washington University neurologist or neurosurgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 855.925.0631.