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10 Facts You Should Know About Multiple SclerosisThis just makes me mad!
Multiple sclerosis is now a treatable disease. Get the facts about MS, and find out why MS experts are upbeat about this common neurological disorder.
For the average healthy person reading this article, as well as many patients who have the relapsing remitting type of MS, this is welcomed good news. But for those of us who are having our asses kicked by MS, this type of article does us a disservice.
It’s acceptable, and perhaps even admirable, to acknowledge the gains that have been made in MS treatment. 20 years ago there were no treatments. 10 years ago there were only three treatments. Today there are many choices of disease modifying drugs, and we are finally seeing oral treatments that do not require a shot or an IV. Yes, there has been some progress.
However, there are several factors supporting my position that our advancements in the field of MS treatment are woefully lacking. Although these disease modifying treatments tend to reduce the number of relapses, there is scant evidence that they provide reduced disability in the long term. Many patients see no benefit, or only temporary benefit, from these treatments. They are expensive – $50,000 per year is typical. They carry with them considerable and potentially serious side effects.
And here is my primary point. These drugs only work for, and are only approved for, the most common type of MS – relapsing remitting MS. They don’t work for secondary progressive or primary progressive patients, and we’re the ones who experience the most severe effects from MS.
MS drugs aren’t unique. This “treat the disease with highly profitable drugs, but don’t cure it” phenomenon occurs with all sorts of diseases. For a rather hard-hitting essay on our dysfunctional medical-industrial complex, read this Wheelchair Kamikaze blog post.
I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade. I don’t mind these types of articles, if only they took the time to acknowledge that so many of us still suffer terribly from MS, and we see little or no hope for improvements in our lifetimes. I am acquainted with many MS patients who struggle to get through each day. I even know several MS patients who expect to die from complications of the disease in the next few years. The picture is not rosy, as much as we would like it to be.
Note to journalists and doctors moonlighting as journalists: stop saying things like “this is a great time to have MS” or “multiple sclerosis is now a treatable disease” without qualifying your statements by acknowledging the significant number of us who are not benefiting at all from current, approved treatments. You are being thoughtless and cruel when you make these statements, although in most cases I don’t think you even realize it.
Before I get off my soapbox, I’ll point out that later in the above referenced article the physician-author makes several atrocious statements. First, she says that 85% of patients have the relapsing remitting form of MS. This is a basic mis-statement of an elementary statistical fact. Approximately 85% of patients are initially diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS, but more than half of those patients will eventually develop secondary progressive MS (which is not treatable). She also refers to progressive MS as “rare,” essentially dismissing us as the irrelevant fringe of the MS world. We don’t like that characterization, and it is not accurate.
So whenever you encounter the “good news” about MS, be skeptical. Remember those who have been left behind.
Note: Yes, I recently announced that I seem to be benefiting from an experimental treatment called intrathecal methotrexate. However, this drug is not FDA approved for multiple sclerosis. It has not been through double-blind, placebo-controlled studies to verify its efficacy. It’s apparently working for me right now, and for that I am extremely grateful. However, I live in fear every day that it’ll just stop working, because we simply don’t know enough about how this treatment affects multiple sclerosis.