Multiple sclerosis has left thousands of people with debilitating symptoms, including paralysis. The disease and its causes have mystified doctors for decades. Currently, more than 250,000 Americans and 2.3 million people worldwide have MS. Some treatments have been developed in recent years to treat intermittent attacks, such as use of certain corticosteroids, physical therapy, and even blood plasma treatments (called plasmaspheresis). A recent breakthrough in MS research offers new hope for patients. An experimental procedure has eliminated symptoms in many patients and could pave the way for permanent relief and recovery for MS patients.
The facts on multiple sclerosis and the latest breakthroughs on the disease:
1. Multiple sclerosis is caused by the body's own immune system attacking the protective coating (called myelin) of the nerves in the central nervous system, causing lesions to appear along the spinal cord and in the brain and causing a host of symptoms.
2. MS symptoms can include paralysis, temporary blindness (usually in one eye at a time), dizziness, double vision, exhaustion, numbness and weakness in the limbs, and slurred speech.
3. About 60-70 percent of patients with intermittent MS symptoms (also called relapsing-remitting MS) will face increasingly worse symptoms, including increasing problems with mobility; however, many patients do experience periods without symptoms.
4. Though it is clear that MS is an autoimmune disease, it is not certain what causes it; women are twice as likely as men to develop MS.
5. While MS can develop at any age, most MS patients first begin noticing symptoms between the ages of 15 and 60; and individuals who have relatives with MS or have previously been infected with such viruses as the Epstein-Barr virus (which causes mononucleosis) or certain other autoimmune disorders are more likely to develop MS.
6. In a recent study published in JAMA Neurology, a leading medical journal, a combination of a patient's own stem cells and immunosuppressive drugs designed to lower the body's immune system responses were administered to 24 MS patients and yielded mostly positive results through 3 years of a 5-year study.
7. Nearly four out of every five participants experienced no symptoms and no relapses over a 3-year period while nine out of 10 experienced no deterioration of any type.
8. The stem cells used came from the patient's' own bone marrow where blood cells are formed.
9. Though scientists are encouraged, they are recommending further studies to examine the long-term effects of this new procedure; and it could take years of safety testing before this procedure could be approved for general use.
-- Dr. Ken Bridges is a writer and professor living with his wife and six children in Arkansas. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Science Zone is distributed by More Content Now, a division of Gatehouse Media.