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An upbeat MS update

While everyone else is rooting for their favorites on American Idol (Go, Katie Stevens!), I'll be voting in another competition. Will I pick Jennifer from Rochester, New York? Or will it be Mark from Chandler, Arizona, or maybe Carlyn from San Diego?

As part of its ongoing campaign to raise awareness about multiple sclerosis, the National MS Society has enlisted a camera crew--three people with MS--to create weekly videos featuring folks from across the nation who also have the autoimmune disease. Log on to the We Keep Moving Web site and you can vote for one of three candidates to be the program's s next subject.

Oh, how I wish something like that had been available when I was diagnosed 9 years ago. Back then, many of the images associated with MS were grim and depressing. It would have been so helpful to "meet" a bunch of people who were living well, despite their MS.

If you have to be diagnosed with MS -- as about 200 people in the U.S. are every week -- now is a far better time than even a decade ago. Once the disease moved from being considered untreatable to one that can be managed (by injectable drugs meant to slow its progress), the whole MS scene became much more positive and hopeful.

That hope has given rise to a frenzy of research. Scientists are busy attacking MS on several fronts; many are trying to figure out what causes the disease, which causes the immune system to mistakenly attack the otherwise healthy tissue that insulates nerves in the brain and spinal chord. That damage causes MS's perplexingly broad range of symptoms, from tingling and numbness to paralysis and, rarely, death. Recent research seems to support the notion that the Epstein-Barr virus -- the same one that causes mononucleosis -- may trigger MS in people who have a genetic vulnerability. Understanding how people get MS would be a big first step toward a cure.

Many researchers are working toward a cure, or at least to a better way to manage MS in the long term. The big news there is that two oral disease-modifying drugs are in the late stages of testing and could be approved by the FDA soon.

And while another important development, the FDA's approval in January of a new drug called Ampyra, didn't get the media attention it probably deserved (even from this blog!), it's a big deal. Ampyra is the first drug to be approved for the treatment of a specific symptom of MS; it helps people with MS walk a bit faster. (According to the MS Society, as many as 70 percent of people with MS have trouble walking, and many say that is the disease's worst impact on their lives.) Ampyra became available by prescription on March 1.

Of course, there are still too many people whose MS is debilitating or even fatal. With luck and continued discoveries about this mysterious disease, fewer will find themselves in those dire conditions. Momentum, I sense, is on our side.

UPDATE: Join me and "Feed the Belly" author Frances Largeman-Roth for a chat today at 1 p.m. ET on eating healthfully while pregnant.

Let's tweet! The other Local Living writers and I are on Twitter at @wposthome/local-living. And keep track of my "Me Minus 10" effort to lose 10 pounds before I turn 50 at twitter.com/jhuget.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  March 18, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Multiple Sclerosis , Neurological disorders  
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Next: Is that Right? Movie-theaters should offer healthful snack options?

Comments

One of the wonderful parts of MS research is it very often helps the rarer (or orphan) auto-immune disorders. Strides made for MS has translated into improved treatment for my hemolytic anemia

Posted by: kc222kc | March 19, 2010 11:36 PM | Report abuse

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