By Shane Reeves, Chief Executive Officer

What do actresses Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Christina Applegate, country music singer-songwriter Clay Walker, and TV personality and musician Jack Osbourne have in common? They are public figures who have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) and their openness about their diagnoses has helped reduce stigma and foster understanding of MS in the public eye.

As March is National MS Awareness and Education Month, let’s examine MS, its causes, and promising treatments. 

What is MS?

MS is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. In MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks myelin (the protective covering of nerve fibers), leading to inflammation and damage to the myelin sheath and the underlying nerve fibers. This damage disrupts the normal flow of electrical impulses along the nerves, resulting in a wide range of symptoms, such as:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Weakness
  3. Numbness or tingling in the limbs
  4. Coordination and balance problems
  5. Muscle spasms or stiffness
  6. Problems with vision, such as blurred vision, double vision, or loss of vision
  7. Cognitive impairment, including difficulties with concentration, memory, and problem-solving
  8. Emotional changes, such as depression or mood swings
  9. Pain, typically neuropathic or musculoskeletal

There are several types of MS, including relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), characterized by periods of relapse (worsening of symptoms) followed by periods of remission (partial or complete recovery of function), and progressive forms of MS, which involve a steady worsening of symptoms without distinct relapses and remissions.

MS is typically diagnosed through medical history, neurological exams, and various tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to detect lesions in the brain and spinal cord, cerebrospinal fluid analysis, and evoked potential tests.

What Causes MS?

The exact cause of MS is not fully understood but is believed to involve a combination of genetic, environmental, and immune system factors.

MS is an autoimmune disease, meaning the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues. This autoimmune response leads to inflammation, damage to the myelin, and disruption of nerve signals.

Although MS is not directly inherited, there is evidence that genetic factors play a role in susceptibility to the disease. Specific genes that increase the risk of developing MS have been identified, but having these genes does not guarantee that someone will develop the condition.

Environmental factors may also contribute to the development of MS. Some factors include vitamin D deficiency (due to reduced sun exposure), viral infections (such as Epstein-Barr virus), smoking, and certain environmental toxins.

Who Does MS Affect?

MS most commonly begins in early adulthood, typically between 20 and 40. In rare cases, MS can present in childhood (pediatric MS) or later in life, after age 50 or 60. And women are more likely to develop MS than men. The ratio varies, but it’s commonly reported that two to three women for every man will be affected by the disease. Although women are more likely to develop MS, men tend to have a more severe disease course, such as faster progression of disability and more frequent relapses compared to women with MS.

Is MS Fatal? What are its Complications?

MS is generally not considered a fatal disease in the sense that it directly causes death. Most people with MS have a normal or near-normal life expectancy, particularly with advancements in treatment and management strategies that can help control symptoms and slow disease progression. However, over time, MS can lead to increasing disability, particularly in individuals with progressive forms of the disease. Severe disability may impact a person’s ability to perform daily activities and can reduce their quality of life. Immobility resulting from MS-related disability can increase the risk of complications such as pressure sores, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and blood clots. Other complications can include depression, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory issues. Although rare, certain complications of MS, such as severe respiratory or cardiovascular problems, can potentially lead to life-threatening situations.

How is MS Treated?

Although no cure for MS exists, in 1993, MS treatments were finally developed to help reduce inflammation, manage symptoms, slow disease progression, and modify the immune response of this previously untreatable disease. Several infusion therapies help manage the disease and its symptoms.

Natalizumab (Tysabri) is a monoclonal antibody that targets specific immune cells involved in the inflammatory process of MS, reducing the frequency of relapses and delaying disability progression in relapsing forms of MS.

Alemtuzumab (Lemtrada) is another monoclonal antibody that targets immune cells involved in MS. It is used to treat relapsing forms of MS and is administered as a course of infusions over several days.

Ocrelizumab (Ocrevus) is a monoclonal antibody that targets a specific protein in immune cells called CD20. It treats both relapsing forms of MS and primary progressive MS. Ocrelizumab can reduce the frequency of relapses and slow disability progression.

Rituximab is a monoclonal antibody similar to ocrelizumab that also targets CD20 on immune cells. While not explicitly approved for MS treatment, it has been used off-label for relapsing-remitting MS and may be considered in some instances.

Mitoxantrone is a chemotherapy drug that suppresses the immune system and is used to treat aggressive forms of relapsing-remitting and secondary progressive MS. Due to its significant side effects, mitoxantrone is prescribed only for individuals who have not responded to other treatments.

Are Infusion Therapies “Better” for Treating MS?

Infusion therapy for MS is not necessarily “better” than other treatment options in all cases. However, there are some reasons why infusion therapy may be considered advantageous for certain individuals with MS:

Infusion therapies have demonstrated efficacy in reducing the frequency of relapses, slowing disability progression, and decreasing inflammatory activity in the central nervous system. Infused medications may offer better disease control for some than oral or injectable treatments.

Some infusion therapies, such as ocrelizumab and alemtuzumab, have longer durations of action compared to other treatment options, which may result in less frequent dosing and fewer treatment-related interruptions.

Infusion therapies target specific molecules or immune cells involved in the pathogenesis of MS, offering diverse mechanisms of action compared to other treatment options.

At TwelveStone Infusion Center, infusion therapies are administered under the supervision of trained medical professionals. Receiving infusions through TwelveStone—whether at one of our infusion centers or in your home—may offer greater convenience and adherence for those who prefer fewer dosing requirements or who have difficulty with medication self-administration.

Treatments for MS symptoms have made living with the disease more manageable. Until there is a cure, TwelveStone will continue to serve MS patients by making their infusion treatments more manageable, too.

For more information please give us a call (844) 893-0012, we are here for you!