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Multiple Sclerosis Health Center

Test May Detect Multiple Sclerosis Early

Blood Antibody Test May Determine if Patients Will Benefit From Early Treatment
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July 9, 2003 -- A potential blood test may help to better identify early multiple sclerosis, scientists say.

Researchers from Austria's University of Innsbruck report that the presence of two specific antibodies was highly predictive of early disease progression in a group of patients with symptoms and clinical evaluations suggesting multiple sclerosis (MS).

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease of the nervous system. If a person experiences an event that suggests multiple sclerosis, doctors can only diagnose the disease when a second event happens, which may be years later.

Though a significant percentage of patients in the study who had one or both of the antibodies experienced progression of their disease within a year of their first MS event, almost none of the patients with neither of the antibodies had progressed after three years. The findings are published in the July 10 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

Study author Thomas Berger, MD, tells WebMD that if the research team's findings are confirmed, the test could help doctors counsel their patients with symptoms that may indicate multiple sclerosis.

"Patients often ask me what their prognosis is, and in most cases I have to confess to them that I don't know," Berger tells WebMD. "We can't really tell most patients how quickly their disease will progress. Something that could help us predict this would be of enormous value."

Multiple sclerosis is characterized by intermittent, recurrent damage to the insulation that surrounds the nerves in the brain and spine, known as myelin. Symptomatic events often occur years apart, but each episode causes more hardening and scarring of the myelin, which interferes with transmission of nerve signals.

The Austrian study included 103 patients who had experienced a first event suggestive of multiple sclerosis and who had magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and spinal fluid tests consistent with the disease. All patients were also tested for the presence of two antibodies in the blood.

Almost all of the patients who had both antibodies were confirmed to have multiple sclerosis within roughly five years, compared with about one-fourth of patients who had neither antibody.

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