Super-Early MS Treatment Best
Permanent Disability Delayed by Betaseron After First MS-Like Event
Rx: Super-Early MS Treatment
This means a sea change in MS treatment, says Robert Fox, MD, medical director of Cleveland Clinic's Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis Treatment and Research.
"We have finally shown that treating MS super early can have a significant impact on the development of disability, which is what patients are most worried about," Fox tells WebMD.
"This isn't just early treatment -- early treatment is when a patient has had a second episode. Early treatment now turns out to be late," Fox says. "This is the first study to show we need to treat super early, after only a single attack with the diagnosis of MS not confirmed."
Betaseron is given to patients every other day via injection under the skin. The side effects are flu-like symptoms, which tend to subside after a patient becomes accustomed to the drug.
Rebif is another beta-interferon given by subcutaneous injection. Avonex is a form of beta-interferon given by once-weekly muscle injections. Fox says he thinks these treatments should work as well as Betaseron, but this has yet to be demonstrated in clinical trials.
While the new findings are good news for people who get MS in the future, they are sobering news for patients whose treatment started later in the course of their disease.
"The damage continues to fester two to three years later despite the fact that patients are on beta-interferon," Freedman says. Even the delayed treatment is effective -- but you don't regain what you lost."
Late Treatment Still Effective
Don't tell Amelia Davis that late treatment doesn't help. Davis, now 38, was diagnosed with remitting/relapsing MS two months before her 30th birthday, after she woke to find the left side of her body had gone numb from head to toe.
It was not an early diagnosis.
"In my 20s, I went completely blind in my left eye," Davis tells WebMD. "That lasted four weeks, and then my sight came back. I was in college, pulling all-nighters, so I thought it was just the stress and the eye strain."
Four years later, the same thing happened again. Again she wrote it off to working too hard. A few years later, she lost the feeling in both hands for awhile. But she never sought help until half her body went numb.