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Earlier Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis Means Earlier Treatment

When 36-year-old Alyson Dunn's symptoms of multiple sclerosis first began 8 years ago, she could see only at eye level for 2 straight weeks. The world below was a black hole.

"If people were walking the dog, I couldn't see the dog," she remembers.

It took 3 years and at least three doctors to make the connection with MS--a chronic, potentially disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system. Dunn is one of thousands of patients who have lived in medical limbo by exhibiting symptoms of MS and not receiving a definitive diagnosis for years.

Getting diagnosed can be a long and frustrating ordeal. The disease has many symptoms and there is no one test that confirms it. It can result in random attacks that are years apart, making diagnosis difficult.

But as CBS 2's Paul Moniz reports, new guidelines by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society should change that.

"The implications are that we can make the diagnosis earlier, which . . . is good because we have treatments, and with greater accuracy," says Dr. Fred Lublin of Mt. Sinai Hospital.

The change in the guidelines involves the value of magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRIs) of the brain, and there is less emphasis placed on spinal fluid tests.

Under the old guidelines, diagnosis could take months or years because patients needed to exhibit two attacks, show two separate symptoms, and could not rely on MRI scans as definitive evidence of the disease.

The new guidelines require just one attack and changes in two MRI scans that show the disease progressing. From that, a diagnosis can be made in as little as 3 months.

About 400,000 people in the United States are already diagnosed with MS.

As part of relapsing remitting MS, the most common form, where symptoms come and go, random MS attacks plague Dunn today.

"Sometimes, I have numbness in my tummy, [like] last week, that comes and goes," Dunn says about the disease. She also complains of electriclike shocks down her spine.

But since receiving a positive diagnosis, she has started weekly injections of the interferon treatment Avonex, which has reduced her symptoms. She has not had any serious attacks in 4 years, allowing her to continue working as an architect.

She hopes others can be more quickly diagnosed and regain control of their lives by getting treatment.

"It's phenomenal to say I'm doing the one thing that I know is proven to help slow down the progression of the multiple sclerosis," she says.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is now making the guidelines available to doctors across the country. The changes could make it easier for patients to get their insurance companies to pay for treatments that can cost $10,000 a year. Without a firm diagnosis, some health plans have resisted coverage.

Among those championing the new rules is Andrea Plummer, Miss New York. Her mother has battled MS for 8 years and Plummer says the family was torn apart by early msdiagnoses.

For more information, visit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society online at: www.nmss.org.
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