New study researches brain changes in people with multiple sclerosis

Published: Oct. 24, 2017 at 3:24 PM EDT
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A new study sheds light into the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS).

It is a disease where the body attacks its own central nervous system. While there is no cure, researchers want to know what happens in the brain early in the progression of the disease, with the ultimate goal of finding something to stop it.

Sarah Maurer was 23 years old when her body went numb from the neck down.

"I couldn’t brush my own hair," she says. "I had no control over my hands."

Soon after, she was diagnosed with MS. With no cure, the only remedy is medicine and research.

According to a recent study published in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, each MS relapse impacts what is stored in a patient’s brain reserve. This could be why MS patients have a tougher time understanding social cues.

"I have a harder time picking up sarcasm from my 15-year-old," Maurer says. "He says, 'Mom I’m joking.'"

While Maurer took medication for MS, her relapses and symptoms continued. Thanks to recent medical advancements, she now takes a new pill and it is working.

"When I had my MRI in 2016, I had enhancing lesions and new lesions," Maurer says. "And that was scary. I had an MRI in March; nothing enhancing and nothing new.”

Doctor Augusto Miravalle, associate professor of neurology at the University of Florida, says there are now 15 approved medications doctors can use to stop MS from getting worse.

"With our therapies, we pretty much expect nothing new," he says. "So, no new lesions in the brain, and no relapses or no clinical attacks as well as no evidence of disease progression.”

Maurer’s advice to others in her shoes: keep a fighting spirit — the one thing a disease can’t control.

"I just do my best to stay more than two steps ahead of it," she says. "Catch me if you can."

On the brain scans, compared to the healthy people, those with MS had widespread abnormalities in their white matter, with the most extensive damage in areas that play an important role in the brain's network. The more damage people had in these areas of the brain, the more likely they were to also have low scores on the clinical tests.




REPORT: MB #4328

BACKGROUND: Multiple sclerosis or MS is an unpredictable and quite often debilitating disease that involves the central nervous system. It disrupts the flow of information within the brain, as well as between the brain and body. The cause of MS is still unknown; scientists believe it may be triggered by a yet-to-be-identified environmental factor in people who are genetically predisposed to respond. Progress, specific symptoms, and severity of each case of MS in any one particular person cannot yet be predicted. Most people diagnosed with MS are between the ages of 20 and 50, and at least two to three times more women than men are diagnosed. There are differences in the way MS courses, and they are broken down into four categories. Clinically Isolated Syndrome is the first episode of neurological symptoms, caused by inflammation in the central nervous system. Relapse-remitting MS is the most common type, and is characterized by clearly defined attacks of new or increasing neurological symptoms. Primary progressive MS is worsening function from the onset of symptoms, without early relapse or remissions. Finally, secondary progressive MS follows an initial relapsing-remitting course.




SYMPTOMS: As MS causes damage to the central nervous system, nearly any function of the body can be affected. The most common symptoms, however, include overwhelming fatigue, altered sensation, difficulty with mobility, and visual disturbances. Symptoms are unpredictable, and vary case by case from one person to another, even in the same person over time. They may disappear completely or remit and persist, sometimes worsening over time. Symptoms occur when the immune-system produces inflammation within the central nervous system. The inflammation attack damages the protective insulation surrounding the nerve fibers, the cells that make them, and sometimes the underlying fibers themselves. Damage caused by this inflammation can produce symptoms that resolve over weeks to months, or even some that are permanent.



NEW INFORMATION: A new study published in the Medical Journal of the American Academy of Neurology is shedding light on MS relapses and the impacts they have on what is stored in a patient’s brain reserves. It could cause MS patients to have a tougher time understanding or catching social cues, such as picking up sarcasm. On these study-related brain scans, MS patients had widespread abnormalities in their white matter as compared to average healthy patients. The most extensive damage was done in the areas that play an important role in the brain’s network. The more damage people had in these areas, the more likely they were to have lower scores on the clinical tests.



Augusto Miravalle, MD, FAAN)