Multiple Sclerosis

August 5, 1983

Report Outline
Extent of the Desease Today
Efforts to Solve Ms Puzzle
Recent Advances in Treatments
Special Focus

Extent of the Desease Today

Victims' Economic, Psychological Burdens

Medical Science is closer than ever to finding the cause of multiple sclerosis. But the exact nature of this crippling neurological disorder remains a mystery and no cure or totally reliable treatment method has been developed. Although there are several general patterns, each case is unique and most patients have unpredictable periods of relapses and remissions. “In the majority of cases there are attacks, full or partial recovery and after an uncertain interval, another attack, full or partial recovery and so on,” said Dr. Richard T. Johnson, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “There's a tremendous uncertainty factor in the disease.…It really makes it very hard to plan what your future's going to be.”

It is estimated that 250,000 Americans have MS, but the disease's impact far outweighs the relatively small number of victims. The main reason is that it primarily strikes young adults — the median age at onset is 29. “Even though it's a small number of people, it's a very important group of people,” said Dr. Dale McFarlin, chief of the neuro-immunology branch of the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke (NINCDS). “Usually they are people who have selected an occupation, have made decisions about marriage and frequently have children. Then they get hit by this disease and they just get wiped out.”

Most of the patients live to old age and this puts a large financial burden on them and their families. NINCDS estimates that MS accounts for about $1.7 billion a year in medical expenses, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid payments, and lost income and productivity. “Economically, MS is a very much greater drain than you might expect …because of the long life expectancy, the age of onset and the fact that these are usually people with families,” Dr. Johnson said. “MS …occurs at a very, very tragic time in people's lives.”

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