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MS Information on How the Disease Is Diagnosed

A physician may diagnose MS in some patients soon after the illness begins. In others, however, doctors may not be able to readily identify the cause of the symptoms. This can lead to years of uncertainty and multiple diagnoses punctuated by baffling symptoms that mysteriously come and go.
 
(To learn more about how the condition is diagnosed, click Diagnosing MS.)
 

Information on Treatment Options

There is currently no cure for MS. Many patients do well with no therapy at all, especially since many medications have serious side effects and some carry significant risks. However, three forms of beta interferon (Avonex®, Betaseron®, and Rebif®) have now been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of relapsing-remitting MS. Beta interferon has been shown to reduce the number of MS attacks and may slow the progression of physical disability. When attacks do occur, they tend to be shorter and less severe.
 
The FDA also has approved a synthetic form of myelin basic protein, called copolymer I (Copaxone®), for the treatment of relapsing-remitting MS. Copolymer I has few side effects, and studies indicate that the agent can reduce the relapse rate by almost one third. An immunosuppressant treatment, Novantrone® (mitoxantrone), is approved by the FDA for the treatment of advanced or chronic MS.
 
While steroids do not affect the course of MS over time, they can reduce the duration and severity of attacks in some patients.
 
Spasticity, which can occur either as a sustained stiffness caused by increased muscle tone or as spasms that come and go, is usually treated with muscle relaxants and tranquilizers such as baclofen, tizanidine, diazepam, clonazepam, and dantrolene. Physical therapy and exercise can help preserve remaining function, and patients may find that various aids -- such as foot braces, canes, and walkers -- can help them remain independent and mobile. Avoiding excessive activity and avoiding heat are probably the most important measures patients can take to counter physical fatigue.
 
If psychological symptoms of fatigue, such as depression or apathy, are evident, antidepressant medications may help. Another drug that may reduce fatigue in some, but not all, patients is amantadine (Symmetrel®). Although improvement of visual symptoms usually occurs even without treatment, a short course of treatment with intravenous methylprednisolone (Solu-Medrol®) followed by treatment with oral steroids is sometimes used.
 
(For an in-depth look at the methods used for treating multiple sclerosis, click MS Treatment.)
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