MS Symptoms: Researchers Look for Life-Changing Breakthroughs

Stopping the effects of even one MS symptom can be a life-changing breakthrough for an individual with MS. I’m encouraged by the many strategies I heard about at ECTRIMS and its companion meeting, Rehabilitation in MS (RIMS), and am hopeful that they can soon be put into action to change the lives of people with MS. (Anyone who wants to explore conference reports can freely browse the abstracts – summaries – here.)

Fatigue – Dr. Vincent de Groot (Vu University Medical Center, Amsterdam) reported results from three clinical trials, each testing a different strategy to see if it could lessen fatigue over 16 weeks in approximately 90 people with MS: aerobic training, cognitive behavioral therapy, and energy conservation management.  Only cognitive behavioral therapy effectively reduced severe fatigue in this short-term study. We know that psychological interventions are a part of managing fatigue, and these results certainly support that. (Abstract 142)

Mobility – Dr. Gaizka Loyola (Vall d’Hebron University, Barcelona) and colleagues administered a rehabilitation program to improve mobility, tailoring it to each individual’s abilities. The 164 participants were categorized into separate groups, for mild, moderate, or severe walking problems. Each group underwent a five-month program with sessions addressing muscle strength, balance, and “gait reeducation” – walk training. All three groups improved in walking and balance. (Abstract 146) It’s great to know we can find solutions for people with all types of mobility difficulties.

Pain – Sometimes the research you hear about doesn’t bring a solution, but a wake-up call. This one sure did. A study by Dr. Carolyn Young (University of Liverpool) and colleagues reported that nearly 66% of more than 700 people with MS had nerve pain. Higher levels were found in those people who had MS for a longer time, had more progressed disability, or were not working. (Abstract P337) You can do something about pain in MS – but we don’t have nearly as many ways to address this symptom as we should. I hope that findings such as these help to point them out.

Spasticity – Baclofen is the most commonly used medication to treat spasticity – one of the more common symptoms of MS – but it can often cause sleepiness. Dr. Daniel Kantor (Kantor Neurology, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL) and colleagues report that Arbaclofen Extended Release Tablets (Osmotica Pharmaceuticals) significantly reduced spasticity in a trial comparing it with baclofen in 354 people with relapsing-remitting or secondary progressive MS. The extended-release tablets caused significantly less sleepiness, drowsiness and dizziness than baclofen. (Abstract 128) The company reports that it has filed for FDA approval of Arbaclofen.

Cognition – This research is exciting – scientists are showing how improvements in cognition go hand-in-hand with changes in brain connections.
  • Dr. Brian Sandroff (Kessler Foundation, West Orange, NJ) and colleagues showed that treadmill training improved processing speed and brain connectivity (how areas of the brain interact) in a small pilot study funded by the Society. (Abstract p796)
  • Dr. Pietro Iaffaldano (University of Bari, Italy) and colleagues showed that a home-based computerized training program that targeted specific cognitive issues improved overall cognitive function significantly more than a non-specific program. Also, those who had less function in certain brain areas showed greater improvement after cognitive training. (Abstract 145)
  • Oiane Rilo (University of Deusto, Bilbao, Spain) and colleagues showed that a three-month, group-based cognitive rehabilitation program improved working memory, processing speed, verbal memory and executive function (which is important in problem solving and planning). There were also significant changes in brain connectivity. (Abstract 144)
We are well on our way to unraveling many of the mysteries of MS. Until that time, it is so encouraging to know that researchers are working on making the lives of people with MS better NOW. While many of these treatments are still experimental, some are available from rehabilitation specialists such as speech pathologists or neuropsychologists. Discuss your options with your MS doctor.
Tags Research, Symptoms, Treatment      3

Nicholas LaRocca, PhD

Dr. Nicholas LaRocca is a consultant to the National MS Society. He is a clinical psychologist who has worked in the field of MS for over 30 years. He was an associate professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and New York Medical College before joining the Society in 1997. Dr. LaRocca served as vice president of health care delivery and policy research in the research programs department of the Society. In this role, he was responsible for Society funding of research to address the symptoms of MS, and the rehabilitation, epidemiology and psychosocial aspects of MS, as well as health policy studies.