Kathi 2009-05-14 01:45:47
Sun, Sep. 14, 2003
Technology helping detect MS sooner
By Jan Jarvis Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Cindy Hartaway was 16 years old when double vision and facial numbness
signaled that something was wrong.
But it would take seven years and more symptoms — including paralysis
in her right arm — before she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“Way back in the late ’70s and ’80s it was so hard to diagnose multiple
sclerosis,” said Hartaway, 42, of Allen. “Plus they didn’t have MRIs
Diagnosing multiple sclerosis is notoriously difficult and can take
months, even years. But advances in imaging technologies could lead to a
faster diagnosis, making it possible for patients to start treatment
earlier, according to researchers at the University of Texas
Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
Using an MRI, a multiple sclerosis diagnosis can be confirmed as early
as the patient’s first attack, said Dr. Elliot Frohman, head of UT
Southwestern’s multiple sclerosis program and lead author of a paper
published in the September issue of the publication Neurology. A quick
diagnosis can mean patients can start new treatments rather than wait
years for a diagnosis.
“Identifying it earlier and treating it may go a long way toward
achieving a better level of control,” Frohman said. “And treatment can
reduce the risk of new attacks and the severity of new attacks.”
About 400,000 people nationwide have multiple sclerosis, but the numbers
could be much higher because symptoms can be invisible. Also, the
federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not require
physicians to report new cases, according to the National Multiple
In Tarrant County, about 2,500 people have the disease, said Heather
Boles, program manager for the North Central Texas chapter of the
National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
“It’s often misdiagnosed as lupus or fibromyalgia,” she said. “A lot of
patients go for years with a diagnosis like that.”
Today, MRIs can detect abnormalities in white brain matter in different
regions of the brain, Frohman said. The scans can also differentiate new
lesions from old ones.
During the progression of multiple sclerosis, a fatty tissue called
myelin is lost in multiple areas, leaving scar tissue called sclerosis.
In the study, supported by the American Academy of Neurology, the
majority of patients with abnormal MRIs went on to have more lesions.
In up to 80 percent of patients, old lesions can be detected by an MRI
as early as when the first symptoms of the disease appear, leading
researchers to suspect that the disease becomes established much earlier
than thought, Frohman said. He has diagnosed multiple sclerosis in
patients as young as 4 years.
Since multiple sclerosis was recognized 150 years ago, the cornerstone
of diagnosis has been clinical observation of multiple attacks over
time, he said.
“The majority of patients had a single event, then you were just waiting
for evidence of another event,” Frohman said.
In Hartaway’s case, the disease followed the typical pattern of several
years of remission and then a relapse of attacks. She tried bed rest and
reducing stress, but by 1994, she was using a cane. In 1999, she stopped
working as an editorial assistant and went on disability.
The scenario was far different for Alyce Glazer Levy, 34, of Dallas, who
was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis less than a month after her
fingers went numb in 2000.
“I knew something was wrong, and I was not going to be settled until I
found out what it was,” Levy said.
She aggressively sought a diagnosis and quickly began taking medication.
“I don’t know if it is better, but it hasn’t been worse,” Levy said. “If
things stay like this the rest of my life, it will be great.”
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society recommends treatment with one of
the “disease-modifying” medications approved to the Food and Drug
Administration. Interferon, for example, has been shown to help lessen
the frequency and severity of multiple sclerosis attacks.
Both Hartaway and Levy said that the new medications have made a big
“Almost immediately I started getting better and my walking improved,”
Hartaway said. “Since January, I haven’t been using a cane, and now I
can cycle like seven miles a day.”
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, unpredictable disease of the central
nervous system. Most people are diagnosed between age 20 and 50.
Loss of balance.
SOURCE: National Multiple Sclerosis Society
Jan Jarvis, (817) 548-5423 firstname.lastname@example.org