Reviewed by Melinda Ratini on May 03, 2012
Ben Thrower, MD; Neurologist and Medical Director of the Multiple Sclerosis Institute at Shepherd Center, Atlanta, GA. National Multiple Sclerosis Society Medline Plus: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/multiplesclerosis.htmlHarvard Medical Schools (Consumer Health Information):http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH/WSIHW/8320/21154/31523.html?d=dmtcontent
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Jennifer Henderson: I had stiffness in my lower extremities—hands, feet, tingling and optic neuritis in my right eye, so I was going blind.
Narrator: Jennifer was lucky. She was diagnosed before the disease had a chance to critically damage her central nervous system. She was quickly put on treatments to combat her vision problem and other symptoms and was also given a drug that keeps MS from advancing.
Ben Thrower, MD: There are a lot of people out there like Jennifer, people who were picked up fairly early on. Who were started on an injectable medication and they're just doing really well.
Narrator: Jennifer is on an immune modulator, which works by altering the response of the immune system and reducing the frequency and severity of attacks from MS. Many patients hate the idea of sticking themselves with a needle, but for Jennifer, keeping the disease in check was motivation enough.
Jennifer Henderson: The medicine's just part of my daily routine. I want it to stay dormant as long as possible and anything that's going to help I'm going to do.
Narrator: Besides daily injections, many MS patients struggle to stay on immune modulators because they don't directly address disabilities often seen with MS.
Ben Thrower, MD: You're trying to keep the person from getting any worse. They don't see any immediate return on their investment because we don't make people feel better with the injectable drugs. We improve people's quality of life right now through symptom management.
Narrator: Symptoms that can turn simple everyday routine into drudgery. Management can involve physical therapy and drugs ranging from pain medications to steroids, all of which may have their own side effects. Multiple Sclerosis tends to be more prevalent in women than men and often strikes during child bearing years. But as it turns out, pregnancy appears to suppress the disease.
Ben Thrower, MD: We've always known that pregnancy is one of the best treatments for MS that's out there. If you look especially at the second and third trimesters of a woman with multiple sclerosis, their MS typically gets very, very quiet.
Jennifer Henderson: I just enjoy coming home from work every day. He's the first thing that I want to see when I walk in the door.
Narrator: Jennifer had to suspend taking her immune modulator during pregnancy and for the entire time she was nursing, but during that period she had no major symptoms associated with MS.
Ben Thrower, MD: That protective effect of pregnancy has obviously been very tantalizing—what is it? It is something we can tap into as a treatment.
Narrator: As researchers work to unravel the cause of the disease, some evidence points to the possibility of a virus, giving hope that a vaccine might be available one day. In the meantime, women like Jennifer are grateful for nature's defense against MS.
Jennifer Henderson: Since I was feeling good and still am feeling good, we'd like to have another one down the road.
Narrator: For WebMD, I'm Damon Meharg.