According to the National MS Society, it’s estimated that roughly a million people over the age of 18 are living with multiple sclerosis in the United States.
“Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune condition where a person’s immune system incorrectly attacks their own body. Specifically the central nervous system is affected, which includes the brain, spinal cord and the nerves which provide us with vision, the optic nerves,” said Brian Wong, MD, neuro-immunologist with Hartford HealthCare’s Ayer Neuroscience Institute and co-director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center in Southington.
Dr. Wong says a person with MS will typically experience their first symptoms somewhere between their mid-teens to mid-forties, but most people are diagnosed in their twenties and thirties. Symptoms of MS can vary, but often include:
Numbness or tingling (body or extremities)
“Sometimes diagnosing MS can be difficult because many of the symptoms that individuals experience are nonspecific,” Wong explains. So how do doctors make a diagnosis? Dr. Wong says that MRI imaging is the first tool that’s used to get a look at the brain and spinal cord to evaluate for evidence of autoimmune activity on the nervous system. “We can also perform blood tests to rule out other conditions and spinal fluid testing is often needed to help make a diagnosis as well.”
Treatment for MS has come a long way in recent years according to Dr. Wong. He says there are currently 23 FDA-approved medications for MS. In 2000, there were only five. “Medications have proven to be very effective in slowing or preventing disability. Most of our patients do quite well over time with the appropriate treatment and therapy.”
Hartford HealthCare’s Multiple Sclerosis Center was recently designated as a Center for Comprehensive MS Care by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society due to the care and specialists it provides MS patients.
“There is no cure for MS, so it’s important for those who are living with the disease to follow up with their doctor and make sure they are going through the appropriate testing and treatments,” said Wong. “Getting diagnosed early means treatment can also begin before the disease progresses – resulting in better outcomes for our patients.”
Dr. Brian Wong is a neuro-immunologist with Hartford HealthCare’s Ayer Neuroscience Institute and co-director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center in Southington. For more information, call 860.628.3910 or visit www.hartfordhealthcare.org/ms