Neurological Disorders & Multiple Sclerosis
By Larry Lucas, Deputy Vice President
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America
Every week, 200 people learn they have multiple sclerosis, or MS. For many, the diagnosis brings uncertainty and fear. “When the neurologist said those words, ‘You have MS,’ it hit me like a brick. I thought the diagnosis was a death sentence,” said television host Montel Williams about his experience with MS.
As with many chronic diseases, it’s important to dispel the myths associated with MS and educate patients and their families to let them know there is hope for living with this disease. Most people with MS have a normal or near-normal life expectancy, and the majority of people with MS do not become severely disabled.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS is a chronic, unpredictable neurological disease that affects the central nervous system. There are four phases of the disease; most common is the “relapsing–remitting” phase where patients experience flare-ups followed by recovery periods. The National Institutes of Health report that many investigators believe MS to be a disease in which the body’s immune system launches a defensive attack against its own nerve tissues. Why the body attacks itself in this way is still unknown.
MS is difficult to diagnose because symptoms can be unpredictable and highly variable. Some people can live for years without distinguishable symptoms, with most patients noticing their symptoms between ages 20 and 40. MS affects twice as many women as men, according to the Mayo Clinic. Although African-Americans are half as likely as Caucasians to develop MS, research from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society shows that the disease affects African-Americans more aggressively than their counterparts.
While there is no cure for MS, FDA-approved medications have been shown to "modify" or slow down the underlying cause of MS. More good news is on the horizon. According to a new survey of America’s pharmaceutical research companies, there are currently 547 new medicines in development to treat a variety of neurological disorders including 46 treatments for MS. There is also a potential vaccine in development designed to target T-cells that contain disease-specific proteins. These cells can damage the sheath that protects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, a process that may cause MS.
For those who need help affording their prescription medicines, including those needed to manage MS and other neurological disorders, there are programs that can help. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance (1-888-4PPA-NOW or www.pparx.org), a national program sponsored by America's pharmaceutical research companies, provides a single point of access to information on more than 475 patient assistance programs. More than 2,500 brand-name and generic prescription medicines are available through the participating programs. So far, the program has already helped more than 4.5 million people in need nationwide.
In addition to medicines, there are certain lifestyle choices that may help patients better manage MS. Physical and occupational therapy can help build strength and teach patients how to use tools that can assist in everyday tasks, all of which helps preserve independence. Counseling is also important for patients facing a MS diagnosis, who might find strength and understanding by talking to a professional therapist or even just by talking to other patients.
It’s natural for patients who suffer from any disease, including MS, to feel sad, angry or confused. Learning more about the disease and how to mitigate its impact, and reaching out to friends, family and others in the MS community can help.