Posted on Thu, Feb. 28, 2002
Today's questions are answered by neurologist Dr. Howard Zwibel, medical director of the Baptist Hospital Multiple Sclerosis Center and member of the board of trustees of the South Florida chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Q. Who is usually affected by multiple sclerosis?
A. Males and females between the age of 20 and 40 are most affected, with a 3-1 predominance of women to men. In the United States, more than 350,000 people are afflicted with MS, which is the leading cause of neurological disability in young adults in this country.
Q. What causes multiple sclerosis?
A. The exact cause is unknown; it is a dysfunction of the immune system that leads to attacks on the message-carrying pathways -- the myelin and axons. There are genetic, infectious, hormonal and possibly environmental factors that trigger the disease.
Q. What are the symptoms of MS?
A. Symptoms widely vary and can include visual loss, double vision, sensory alteration, muscle weakness and lack of coordination.
Q. Is there a cure for multiple sclerosis?
A. Not yet. There are excellent therapies -- medications available for both the relapsing form of the disease and the progressive form. There are pharmaceutical approaches and therapeutic approaches, with occupational and physical therapists, for the symptoms. It is important that we treat patients early. By doing that we may alter the natural course of the disease.
Q. Is MS ever fatal?
A. No, MS does not appreciably shorten your life span.
Q. What is the outlook for MS?
A. I'm very optimistic. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society this year is spending $32 million for research in over 300 projects. Hopefully, we will develop a vaccine to halt or prevent the disease. We're also hopeful that we're going to be able to restore myelin damage using transplanted nerve cells.
Q. What types of groups are available to help people with MS?
A. All of my patients are asked to
join the South Florida chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
From that group, they get the latest unbiased scientific information. Fundraising
MS Walks are coming up in South Florida: March 16 in Coral Gables, March
17 in Aventura and Fort Lauderdale, and April 15 in Boca Raton and West
Palm Beach. For details, call the society at 305-599-0299 in Miami-Dade
or 954-731-4224 in Broward.