Technology Shows Areas Damaged By MS
January 6, 2004
Ivanhoe Broadcast News
Nearly 350,000 Americans suffer from multiple sclerosis. Because it affects the two most inaccessible parts of the body -- the brain and spinal cord -- patients suffer for years before they're finally diagnosed. But high-tech magnetic resonance imaging machines are speeding up the process.
Dara Jones, 40, has MS. It's not the diagnosis she wanted, but she says it beats not knowing. For seven years, doctors misdiagnosed her numbness, fatigue, and vision loss.
"[I was] always being given things to calm you down," she said. "'Here's a Valium. Here's Xanax. You're just stressed out all the time.'"
When she agreed to an MRI, the seven-year mystery was solved.
"Right then, boom, they knew -- by accident, they knew," she said.
The MRI gives Dr. Norman Kachuck a view inside Jones' brain. He can see white lesions -- damaged areas caused by MS. Those lesions combined with a patient's symptoms can help doctors diagnose MS as soon as a patient has their first attack.
Until now, it took numerous clinical tests and two flare-ups of symptoms at least one month apart to diagnose MS. MRIs now significantly reduce the time it takes to get that diagnosis.
"If we can intervene in this disease at its earliest state, medicines we have presently will work far more efficiently," said Kachuck, a neurologist at the University of Southern California.
MRIs may also give patients a clue to where their disease is headed, as studies show the more lesions found initially, the faster the disease may progress.
With exercise, the right diet, and medication, Jones feels better than she has in 10 years.
"If I hadn't gone in there that day, who knows when I would have been diagnosed, and I could have started treating what I have," she said.
MRI scans are also allowing researchers a faster way to test new drugs
for MS. Because the disease progresses slowly and is often silent, the
benefits of a new treatment can often be seen on an MRI before they can
be felt by a patient.
Copyright © 2004, Ivanhoe Broadcast News