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Nancy Davis Foundation: Multiple Sclerosis FAQ

How is MS diagnosed?

To be accurately diagnosed with MS, your doctor will order a complete set of MRI studies, nerve conduction studies and possibly a spinal tap. From those results the doctor will determine if your symptoms are attributable to MS. Currently there is a blood test being developed that will identify MS, hopefully giving many people a chance at early detection and treatment.

What is the clinical course of MS?

There are several different clinical courses: relapsing-remitting, secondary-progressive, primary-progressive and, rarely, progressive-relapsing. Relapsing-remitting occurs in 85% of newly diagnosed MS patients. Patients will have an attack or relapse, which lasts usually a few weeks, and will have either new symptoms develop, or have symptoms recur or worsen. Patients may return to normal or have permanent remaining symptoms. Secondary-progressive usually develops in about half the patients initially diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS. In this type the patient slowly and steadily gets worse. There may be an occasional relapse or attack, or perhaps no recurrence of attacks with this type. Primary-progressive MS affects about 15% of all MS patients and the patient worsens steadily without having a relapse or attack. Progressive-relapsing MS is similar to primary-progressive MS in its steady deterioration except that the patient experiences occasional attacks along with the already worsening symptoms.

Is there a cure for Multiple Sclerosis?

Although no cure exists at present for MS, many symptoms can be relieved and the severity of attacks may be reduced through drugs such as Avonex, Betaseron, Copaxone, Extavia, Novantrone, Rebif and Tysabri. Several of these drugs are interferons (immune system proteins). Interferons and Copaxone are first-line therapies that modify the immune response and reduce by about 30% the frequency of relapses or attacks.

Progressive MS symptoms are often less responsive to current MS therapies, although there may be a limited role for approved drugs in patients with progressive MS who continue to have exacerbations. The MRI has redefined the natural history of MS and has proven an invaluable aid in diagnosing and monitoring the disease. Scientists are now able to visualize and follow the development of MS lesions in the brain and spinal cord using MRI. This ability is a tremendous aid in assessing a person’s response to therapy and can speed the process of evaluating new treatments. Because of these advances, investigators are optimistic that safer and more effective treatments are on the way to unlock the mysteries of MS.

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