Study: It’s Best to Treat Your MS Symptoms Early

Disease often is most active in beginning stages
Study: It's Best to Treat Your MS Symptoms Early

Multiple sclerosis often is difficult to diagnose — no single test or exam can confirm its presence, and the disorder varies from person to person.

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But if doctors can diagnose the disorder when the first signs appear, a new study says, early diagnosis and treatment may help to delay its full onset or a relapse — as long as 11 years later.

The study found that people who received treatment for MS after a first episode of symptoms, such as numbness, vision or balance problems, were a third less likely to later be diagnosed with MS than those whose treatment was delayed by just 18 months.

In addition, the annual relapse rate for the patients who received early treatment was 19 percent lower, the study found.

The study also found that relapse rates remained lower in most of the years even after both groups had the same access to treatment.

Results of the study, led by a researcher from University of Basel, Switzerland, appeared recently in the journal Neurology.

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Early detection and treatment

Early treatment of MS is helpful because the disease often is most active in the beginning stages, says neurologist Daniel Ontaneda, MD. Dr. Ontaneda did not take part in the study.

“The study illustrates that despite not having full-blown MS at the very beginning, the patients still started treatment and it made a difference in the long run,” Dr. Ontaneda says.

Know the symptoms

MS is a long-term condition that affects the brain and spinal cord. It occurs when infection-fighting white blood cells enter the nervous system and attack normal body tissues.

When these tissues are damaged, the nerve function is disturbed and can cause symptoms such as:

MS impacts more than 2 million people worldwide. In most cases, there is a history of neurological symptoms that come and go over years. MS symptoms vary widely from person to person. There is no road map for progression of the disorder.

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MS has no cure, but treatments can help stop the disease’s progression, Dr. Ontaneda says.

Get help early

Most people with MS are able to manage their symptoms and live a normal life, but early detection is key to getting the disease under control, Dr. Ontaneda says.

The best window of opportunity for treatments to be effective is within those first few years, he says.

“If MS symptoms are ignored or discounted and a person has several attacks two or three years before they get diagnosed, we’ve lost that critical window of opportunity to treat early,” Dr. Ontaneda says.

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