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Examiner
  • Lori Boyajian-O'Neill: Multiple sclerosis symptoms vary widely

  • It may start out with subtle symptoms such as mild hand weakness or momentary slight blurred vision.  The early symptoms can be so subtle making the diagnosis very difficult. But, over time the symptoms progress and cannot be ignored or explained away.

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  • It may start out with subtle symptoms such as mild hand weakness or momentary slight blurred vision.  The early symptoms can be so subtle making the diagnosis very difficult. But, over time the symptoms progress and cannot be ignored or explained away.
    Ann Romney knows and so do the 400,000 other Americans with multiple sclerosis.
    MS, what do you know? T or F?
    1. It is more common in colder weather countries than tropical.  
    2. Patients generally have a normal life span.
    3. Most patients eventually need to use a wheelchair.
    “The worst day of my life.” That is how Mitt Romney describes the day he witnessed the difficulty with which is wife attempted to perform simple neurologic tasks during an examination which led to her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis strikes women more often than men and is typically diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40 years. Ms. Romney was 49.
    According to the National Institutes of Health, MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). Autoimmune diseases, where the body basically attacks itself, are most often seen in women for reasons that are not entirely clear. Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are examples of autoimmune diseases.
    Although there is no specific cause yet known, it is thought that environment; genetic predisposition and/or viral infection are major factors in the development of MS. The disease is characterized by the deterioration of the protective and conductive sheath surrounding nerve cells. This myelin sheath disintegrates as a consequence of a vicious inflammatory response directed at this covering. Without an intact sheath, nerve signals slow or stop. The nerve cells of the brain, optic nerve and spinal cord are affected causing a variety of symptoms.  
    Symptoms vary according to the specific nerves involved. Normal muscle, eye, bowel and bladder function ceases. Extreme fatigue and balance problems leading to falls is common. Emotional lability including mood swings, depression, uncontrolled laughing or crying may be present.  
    MS is a disease marked by episodes of flare-ups and remissions, which may last several years. At times the flare-ups can be triggered by stress or fatigue. Other times the flare-ups come out of the blue, with no explanation or warning. No two cases are alike.  
    Clinical examinations, spinal taps, nerve conduction tests and brain MRIs are utilized to make the diagnosis. There is no cure but there are new medications and treatments, some of which may be approved by the FDA in early 2013. Treatment is typically a combination of medications to improve nerve function, control pain, enhance memory and balance and improve energy levels. There are powerful medications called biologics and disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, which can decrease the inflammatory response by blunting the body’s attack on itself. Newer medications will target the disease at the molecular level. Adult stem cell therapies are very promising.
    Page 2 of 2 - Physical and occupational therapies may be recommended to maintain and improve muscle function and balance. Social workers help patients and families identify and coordinate community resources which may assist in the coping and general management of MS.    
    Ann Romney, like Annette Funicello and Richard Pryor years before, is a famous face among the millions fighting multiple sclerosis. It has made her an advocate for adult stem cell research and passionate spokeswoman to increase awareness of the disease.  Someday, through the efforts of the Romneys and an army of anonymous volunteers supporting the work of researchers and clinicians, there will be a cure. Until then, we celebrate the remissions and the scientists at the forefront of innovative therapies. To learn more, contact the National Multiple Sclerosis Society at www.nationalmssociety.org
    Answers:  1.T;  2.T;  3.F
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