Multiple Sclerosis Drugs
December 29, 2011 by staff
“From the waist down, it felt as though I was trying to walk through a bowl of oatmeal,” said the 38-year-old musician, who has multiple sclerosis.
She inched her way to a security officer, who called for a wheelchair and helped remove her shoes and belt to get her through security. Frightened and embarrassed, she was taken to her gate in a wheelchair.
Three months later, she experienced another flare-up. While giving a live television interview about a short film she had made on living with MS, she suddenly lost her ability to speak.
“It was as if my mouth was packed with marbles,” she said. “I kept trying to say, ‘I’m sorry,’ to the reporter, but nothing came out that made sense.”
The medication she was taking to prevent these attacks was losing its effect, so her doctor suggested she switch to Tysabri, one of the newer, more potent “disease-modifying drugs,” which reduce the severity and frequency of relapses. She also began taking Ampyra, which early last year became the first drug approved to treat any MS symptom. She hasn’t had a flare-up since.
After decades of basic research on MS, the past five years have brought a rapid rollout of new and sophisticated drugs that are changing how this disease is managed and offering patients new hope.
“We have a disease that’s gone from having no treatments 20 years ago to having multiple treatment options,” said Dr. Timothy Coetzee, the chief research officer at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. “There is a growing recognition that MS is becoming a manageable disease.”
In MS, the body’s immune system damages neurons in the brain and spinal cord, attacking the myelin sheath that insulates these nerves. About 85 percent of patients start out with what is called relapsing-remitting MS, characterized by flare-ups or attacks that cause lesions to form on the brain and that affect the ability to walk, to see and to control the bladder, among other neurological impairments.
These attacks are short-lived, and patients typically recover from them. But more than half of patients eventually develop a progressive form of MS, causing the permanent loss of these functions.
Doctors can now choose from eight disease-modifying drugs, which reduce relapses and thereby slow the progression of the disease. Some of the drugs also prevent brain neurons from dying off, now thought to be a major cause of permanent disability.
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