New App May Help in Treatment, Diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis

Test results could help expose MS-related brain dysfunction

doctor looking at ipad

A new application for your iPad may help doctors to diagnose and treat multiple sclerosis (MS).

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The app is a test that takes about five minutes. Patients taking the test select numbers paired with symbols as quickly as possible.

The test measures your cognitive processing speed – or how quickly you can figure out the answer to a series of simple problems. A slower time could help to expose MS-related brain dysfunction.

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Replacing pencil and paper

The app could take the place of paper and pencil tests that doctors currently give to MS patients to diagnose dysfunction with a patient’s cognitive processing speed, says neuroscientist Stephen Rao, Ph.D.

Dr. Rao studies multiple sclerosis at Cleveland Clinic and helped to develop the app.

“We have found that the app is just as reliable and valid as the paper and pencil tests that require a technician to be present when the test is administered,” Dr. Rao says.

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Complementing a doctor’s visit

A patient would use the app before a doctor’s appointment. The patient would take the test alone in a quiet room.

A doctor then would immediately interpret the results and record the information in the patient’s medical record.

Possible next steps, depending on the results, could include a referral for a magnetic resonance imaging test or a more comprehensive neuropsychological exam.

Tracking a patient’s progress

Doctors also could use the app to follow a patient’s progress. If a patient begins to do worse on the test, the doctor could alter a patient’s treatment plan.

“If a person has a relapse that primarily involves cognition, this test can then trigger a decision to put a person on a drug or change them from one drug to another, Dr. Rao says.

Dr. Rao unveiled the app today at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology. He hopes to have it ready for clinical use at the end of next year.

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What is MS?

MS is a central nervous system disorder. It affects the brain and spinal cord and spares the nerves and muscles that leave the spinal cord.

MS is an inflammatory disorder in which infection-fighting white blood cells enter the nervous system and cause injury. During the resulting inflammation, the myelin sheath that protects nerves becomes stripped off. When this happens, the nerves cannot conduct electricity as well as they should, causing various symptoms.

Symptoms may come and go over time or progress over time. MS can happen to just about anyone and is long-term.

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