Posted on September 11, 2018

According to a multiple sclerosis (MS) specialist at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), emerging treatments are helping to prevent relapses and halt the progression of the disease in most patients; however, he says the neurological condition remains one of the most misunderstood diseases.

“MS is one of the most common disabling neurological conditions affecting young people, but it is also one of the most misunderstood. No two patients with MS experience the same symptoms or have the same journey. This makes understanding MS all the more difficult. It also highlights the significance of raising awareness of the condition and the importance of early diagnosis and treatment,” says Professor Dirk Deleu, Director of HMC’s MS Program.

Professor Deleu says early diagnosis and treatment are critical to preventing relapses and may help delay or prevent irreversible damage. “We are able to help many patients with MS effectively manage their symptoms and these patients are able to live full and active lives. However, early detection is the key to getting the disease under control. If symptoms are ignored or discounted and a person has several attacks, we may have lost the critical window for treatment,” said Professor Deleu.

MS is a potentially disabling disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. The symptoms of MS can vary widely and depend on the amount of central nervous system tract damage and which tracts are affected. Professor Deleu says the initial presenting symptoms often include blurred vision, numbness or loss of sensation, incontinence, weakness in the extremities, coordination problems, and double vision. The disease is more common in women than men and while it is not believed to be hereditary, family members have a slightly higher risk of developing the disease.  

The MS Program at Hamad General Hospital is currently caring for over 700 patients who have been diagnosed with the disease. Over the last four years, almost 45% of those diagnosed have been Qatari, with the majority of patients being women between the ages of 31 and 40. Professor Deleu says MS is a very unpredictable disease that has both physical and emotional effects. He says researchers believe a combination of genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of MS. “The causes of MS are not well understood. There is no cure, but there are effective medications and therapies that modify the disease outcome. We are continuing to learn more about what causes MS and are zeroing in on ways to prevent it,” said Professor Deleu.

Most patients with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40, although it can occur in children as well as in older adults. Professor Deleu says MS can be difficult to diagnose because of the diversity of symptoms it causes and the multiple ways in which the symptoms present. “The average age of diagnosis among the Qatari population is 35 years old. There is a clear female preponderance with the female-to-male ratio being 1.83,” added Professor Deleu. MS is rarely fatal, but it is a lifelong condition that requires careful monitoring and ongoing management. Professor Deleu explains that treatment plans are individualized and designed around the patient, depending on the type and stage of their disease. “Early diagnosis and treatment are important for MS. A neuro-inflammatory disorder like MS leaves a lot of lesions (scars) in the central nervous system and with every lesion there is a potential loss of function,” said Professor Deleu.

“Depending on the severity of the disease, the patient will be recommended for first-line or second-line treatment. Some MS drugs have the potential for complications that can be quite serious so it is of critical importance that the patient understands the pros and cons of each therapy,” added Professor Deleu. He added that the MS Program at HMC was established to provide excellence in care for patients who have the disease. He noted that tremendous progress has been made in recent years in the approval of disease-modifying drugs used to treat MS, adding that Qatar is one of the leading countries in the region to introduce many of these new treatments.

Categories: