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.
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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.

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  • Joyce bowser   Sep 19, 2016 4:02 PM
    Is arbaclofen available by prescription?
  • Linda Hardbarger   Sep 19, 2016 5:35 PM
    In the above article this statement stood out to me, "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)."
    My question is what kind of psychological interventions help manage fatigue? Can you please speak to this more specifically and how effective are these interventions in reducing fatigue?
  • Marisa Mills   Sep 20, 2016 12:13 AM
    Like Linda, I am also interested in the psychological therapy for fatigue. Where can we find more information?
  • Susan Simpson   Sep 20, 2016 3:21 AM
    I have had ms for 32 years, (aged 67) now have secondary progressive ms. I have recently started taking magnesium tablets and feel the brain fog has reduced considerably. I try not to eat processed foods, and gave up meat, because it tasted odd and the smell of it cooking makes me feel ill. My husband and I have sequence danced for years and have recently started ballroom dancing lessons. It's hard to make the brain work out things that you used to do with no trouble, but you have to. It's hard to do physical things, but wile the body moves, I feel you have to find an enjoyable way of keeping it going-hence the dancing. Music makes you feel better too. I have had to adapt my life so many times during the last 32 years to keep going, perhaps being stubborn helps, and a sence of humour. Hope this helps someone to stay positive, because this ms is hard work.
  • Linda   Sep 20, 2016 6:51 AM
    Please send more information. Very interested in the mobility and strength training and also would like more info in fatigue
  • Sheila Mino   Sep 20, 2016 11:28 AM
    Thank you for the good information provided through the MCconnection web site. The bogs provide information about MS management and research. My son is single, employed in NYC, single and a busy, busy food and recreation manager. With this web site I can learn more about MS and the effects as well as the ongoing research. In other words, I can sleep better knowing and understanding this medical difficulty.
  • Barbara   Sep 26, 2016 7:46 PM
    I have been treated for depression k for years, also anxiety, and PTSD. I've been on the same medications for over thirteen years. I was told I was hypoglycemic.The dr was no help there. I went on YouTube and looked up a diet of hypoglycemia, and it has taken care of my blood sugar dropping very low. Now I will have a couple of days feeling alright, the the next day I am totally exhausted, I can barely put one foot in front of the other,I have nerve damage from the meds I think also have tingling in hands and feet. I have been going to the same Doctor for fifteen years, He never has any suggestions for me. I look everything up on YouTube, This is keeping me constantly stressed out. I asked to see an endocrinologist, but he said no. I am at my wit's end. My sleep pattern is very low.
  • Marti   Sep 29, 2016 7:31 PM
    Where do we find more information or programs for cognitive issues?
  • charlotte mills   Mar 16, 2017 11:07 AM
    My son is 30 years old, was diag. with MS in 2008. the last few years he has these anger rages that he gets to yelling, screaming saying things he would never say in normal days. he even talks about his life is not worth living, etc..... he talks very awful to us his parents, wife whoever is in his path. We have a electrical business and he works here (always has) but since this he has these rages with our employees, contractors, and we are very concerned its a side effect of copaxone or MS. He has been sent to a physiologist, goes to neurologist and also is treated for low T. We are very concerned for his and others with his behavior getting worse. Can you steer us in some direction.
  • Akasha92  Apr 2, 2017 5:50 PM
    Most therapies require a degree of insurance that not all MSers have access. Physical or cognitive therapy is a $50 - $120 co-pay for each visit respectively. If I had both even once a week I'd pay $680/month while living on a disability check of not much more than that number.
  • Akasha92  Apr 2, 2017 6:16 PM
    Charlotte Mills I hope you come back and read this comment. I couldn't find you in the community. I too was on Copaxone. Initially, when it was a daily dose medication, i tolorated it well, but then, just seemed to quit working and I flared up again. I was told I had an "aggressive form of MS" was put on Rebif, which I could not titrate up to the therapeutic dose because of the side affects. I was put on Tysabri when I was finally in a wheel chair and thought I'd never walk again.
    I started making life-style changes. I quit drinking soda first. Then, as one of the other people commented, I couldn't eat meat. The smell, taste-everything was "off" so that one was easy. I had already given up drinking, but smoking-that one was a hard one! This year I switched over to non-dairy products and I love the soy! I find I don't even crave the milk.
    These changes, over time have given me my first clinical remission! I'm too poor now to get a new set of MRIs, but I'm sure they would be good!
    Your son, I suspect should follow a course like mine. I'm following a book called OVERCOMING MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS by: Dr. Jelinek Its an older book, so some of the research is outdated in the front, but the core of the program is amazing!
    Also, I am concerned that your son is being treated for "low T" that's "low Testosterone" yes? If that's the case, I would look into the side effects of the dosing of Testosterone or whatever medications he is being RX'd and talk to him and his Dr about his outbursts.
    It may be a good idea to record him during one of his outbursts without him knowing and bring that with you.
    Not to shame him! But to confront him and his doctor with truth about his behaviors.
    Also, if you can find me on here, I'd love to chat!
  • Melchora L. Grana   Jul 13, 2017 6:55 AM
    Please give me some insights on how to go about MS since this case is rare in our country the Philiipines, hence no actual experience of doctors in treatment and management of MS because my 26 year old son has been diagnosed after suffering the symptoms for 5 years since doctors here in our place believed that its only a simple vertigo