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Pharmacologic Treatment of Nystagmus in Multiple Sclerosis

At least half of all people with multiple sclerosis (MS) are expected to have nystagmus at some point during the course of their illness. Nystagmus results from demyelination that involves the brainstem or cerebellar eye movement pathways. While it may be asymptomatic, it often causes blurred vision or oscillopsia. The extent of the visual disturbance is directly related to the velocity of the slow phase of the nystagmus.

In MS patients with chronic nystagmus, the most common form is an acquired pendular nystagmus (APN), which is almost always accompanied by optic atrophy, and often by internuclear ophthalmoplegia (INO).

Numerous treatment trials have demonstrated the efficacy of pharmacologic treatment of chronic symptomatic nystagmus. Treatment should be considered in individuals in whom blurred vision or oscillopsia is severe enough to warrant the potential risk of medication side effects. As a general rule, drugs used to treat nystagmus are titrated slowly upwards from a low dose to either efficacy or tolerance.

The two most effective medications for APN in MS are....

Emerging therapies in multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is unique among neurological diseases in that there are currently eight treatments for this one condition that have received approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Five of these drugs require subcutaneous or intramuscular injection, two are administered intravenously, and fingolimod, the newest agent on the block, is given orally. None are considered curative, but these disease-modifying therapies (DMT) have led to a reduction in relapse rates and the progression of disability.

Despite this progress, each of the drugs comes with side effects, including flu-like symptoms with the interferons, lipoatrophy with glatiramer, progressive multifocal leukodystrophy (PML) with natalizumab, and congestive heart failure or leukemia with mitoxantrone. As the first oral agent for MS, fingolimod created great expectations prior to FDA approval. Its popularity, however, has been surprisingly limited, presumably due to the potential for unknown long-term risks. The occur rence of PML with natalizumab demonstrated to MS neurologists and patients the potential risks associated with new drugs.

Additional DMTs in the pipeline may increase MS-management effectiveness in coming years, although safety will continue to be a major consideration in the use of these drugs. For instance, oral cladribine was on the verge of FDA approval in early March when the agency referred the drug back for more safety studies. This drug is already used in intravenous form for the management of hairy cell leukemia, but it is being studied for use with remitting relapsing MS because of its apoptotic effects on lymphocytes. If cladribine is ultimately approved for use, the risk of infection and neoplasms may limit its use.

Other oral agents being studied include:

The Spring Issue of BrainWaves Is Now Available

The Spring 2011 edition of BrainWaves is now available online.

BrainWaves is the newsletter of the Swedish Neuroscience Institute. Published quarterly, BrainWaves provides information about neurological conditions treated at the Institute, and also profiles the programs, services, and new initiatives of the institute and its staff.

Also check out our past editions of the BrainWaves newsletter.

Expecting the Best in Pregnancy and Multiple Sclerosis

Considering that multiple sclerosis (MS) affects primarily women of childbearing age, it comes as no surprise that for many patients MS and pregnancy often occur together. The issues to consider when discussing pregnancy and MS include:

  • How pregnancy affects MS
  • How MS affects pregnancy
  • How MS treatment should be managed throughout pregnancy

The Pregnancy in MS (PRIMS) study of 254 patients revealed that pregnancy is generally protective against MS relapses, in particular during the third trimester. In contrast, the same study found a rebound of relapses during three months post delivery, with 30 percent of women experiencing a relapse within three months after delivery. Several strategies have been proposed to avert the risk of postpartum relapse, including the use of prophylactic IVIG or corticosteroids. More recently, exclusive breast-feeding has been found to offer some protection against postpartum MS activity; however, this finding was disputed in a subsequent study.

There is no evidence ...

Questionable Hope for CCSVI in Multiple Sclerosis

Once again, multiple sclerosis patients’ area buzz over a new theory and treatment for the disease. The theory is called chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI); and, this time, social media is driving the patient excitement.

CCSVI is based on a controversial idea that impaired venous drainage of the brain due to blockage in venous structures causes MS. Increase in venous pressure promotes leakage of blood across capillaries, with inflammation resulting from the iron deposition into the brain. In 2009 Paolo Zamboni, M.D., reported that virtually all MS patients in a study had abnormalities in the jugular or azygous veins, whereas no control patients had such findings. The Zamboni, or Liberation, procedure involves either angioplasty or stenting of the abnormal vein. Many MS patients are understandably enthusiastic about this theory and treatment.

There are, however, a number of problems with the CCSVI theory that patients and MS neurologists should consider.

 

SNI Communication Tools

SNI is leveraging communication tools that deliver information to patients, referring physicians and the public as a crucial part of providing care at the advancing edge of neu­rological knowledge. The goals of these tools are two-fold. One goal is to update established patients and their doctors regarding the latest developments in our programs and centers. The other is to lower the barrier for patients and physicians who are facing a new neuro­logical problem to discover tertiary subspe­cialty care.

A new SNI communication tool

Dan Rizzuto, Ph.D., director of SNI research, and John Henson, M.D., recently launched the SNI blog to complement other commu­nication efforts and to provide a communication outlet for the staff of SNI. The SNI blog offers brief notes about advances in neurological care provided in SNI’s centers, as well as news items about the institute that are of interest to our patients and referring physicians.

Blog content is more dynamic than Web content. Search engines are able to detect targeted key words within each entry, which helps direct highly relevant Web traffic to the blog. This aids in the dissemination of infor­mation to patients and physicians. Viewers also can subscribe to an e-mail notification system that will alert them to newly posted material.

Other SNI communication tools

Hugh Markus - 2011 Merrill P. Spencer Lecturer

Each spring, The Merrill P. Spencer, M.D. Endowed Lecture is presented in conjunction with the annual Swedish Neuroscience Institute Cerebrovascular Symposium. This year, we are pleased to welcome Dr. Hugh Markus, Professor of Neurology at St. George’s University of London.

Hugh Markus was educated in Medicine at Cambridge and Oxford Universities and then carried out medical jobs in Oxford, London and Nottingham before training in neurology in London. He was senior lecturer and subsequently, reader in neurology at Kings College London before moving to the chair of neurology at St George’s in 2000.

His clinical interests are in stroke, and he is clinical lead for stroke at St George’s Hospital. He is involved in both acute stroke care and outpatient stroke clinics, and runs specialist services for patients with sub cortical vascular disease and genetic forms of stroke.

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