Wednesday, January 28, 2004
Janet St. James
Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas
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 often suffer for years before being diagnosed.
40-year-old Dara Jones has MS. For seven years, doctors misdiagnosed her numbness, fatigue, and vision loss.
"(I was) always being given things to calm you down - 'Here's a Valium, here's Xanax,'" Jones said. "You're just stressed out all the time.'"
When Jones agreed to an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Image, a type of scan), the seven-year mystery was solved.
"Right then, boom, they knew," she said. "By accident, they knew."
The MRI gives doctors a view inside the brain, where white lesions usually denote 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. MRI scans are also allowing researchers a faster way to test new MS drugs. Doctors said the benefits of a new treatment can often be seen on an MRI before they can be felt by a patient.
"If we can intervene in this disease at its earliest state, medicines we have presently will work far more efficiently," said neurologist Norman Kachuck.
MRIs may also give patients a clue to where their disease is headed. Studies show the more lesions found initially, the faster the disease may progress.
With exercise, the right diet, and medication, Dara Jones said she feels
better than she has in ten years.
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