Early Detection of MS Possible with Lab Tests
Early detection of multiple sclerosis (MS) would allow patients to begin early treatment programs that could make a big difference in the qualify of life of individuals with MS. Now a research team says it has discovered which specific lab tests will allow them to identify early signs of MS.
MS patients suffer with muscle weakness and mobility issues
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often debilitating disease in which the body’s immune system attacks a substance called myelin, which surrounds and protects the nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. When the nerve fibers are damaged, scar tissue (sclerosis) forms.
Once myelin and nerve fibers are damaged or destroyed, the nerve messages that travel to and from the spinal cord and brain are disrupted, resulting in the symptoms associated with MS, such as limb numbness, vision problems, muscle weakness, balance and coordination problems, bladder and bowel dysfunction, dizziness, pain, spasticity, and depression, among others.
Although standard neurological testing is used to examine and monitor the walking abilities and muscle strength of MS patients, such methods are not effective at identifying deficits during the early stage of the disease.
Now, however, such methods have been found by Dr. Alon Kalron and his colleagues at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Multiple Sclerosis Centre in Sheba Medical Center, Tel-Hashomer. Their discovery could prove beneficial in further understanding the progression of MS and improve how clinicians manage the disease.
Specifically, the researchers applied the lab tests to 52 patients in the early stage of MS and a control group of 28 healthy volunteers. The tests included
- Measurement of lower limb muscle strength and endurance using an isokinetic dynamometer. Participants were asked to try to bend or straighten their knee with maximum effort and to hold the position for 30 seconds
- Measurement of muscle fatigue during the isokinetic dynamometer test. Generally, patients in the early stages of MS had 40% less endurance when compared to controls
- Observation of the patients’ gait for features such as how far an individual spread his or her legs while walking, length of the steps, and symmetry of movement
Overall, the researchers observed specific abnormalities among the MS patients. Dr. Kalron noted that MS patients walked more slowly and in an asymmetrical pattern using shorter steps. They also tended to “walk with a wider base, because walking with your legs further apart helps to improve stability.”
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society notes that approximately 400,000 people in the United States live with the disease, and that 200 more people are diagnosed every week. Early detection of these individuals could mean a better quality of life.
Since the cause of MS is uncertain and there is no cure, management strategies include methods to modify the disease course (i.e., drugs such as interferon beta-1a and 1-b, glatiramer, fingolimod, mitoxantrone, natalizumab), treat attacks (e.g., use of corticosteroids), manage symptoms (e.g., medications, physical and occupational therapies), and provide emotional support.
The good news is that early detection of MS is possible with lab tests, and that “If we find the abnormalities earlier, then we can start intervention programs when they have a chance to benefit the most,” noted Kalron.
National Multiple Sclerosis Society
Tel Aviv University
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