Dr. Christopher Eckstein, assistant professor of neurology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, said multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease typically characterized by loss of myelin – the fatty lining around nerves – in the brain and spinal cord.

“Multiple sclerosis is a chronic condition that may affect people of any age, though it is typically encountered in the 20s-30s, with women being affected about twice as often as men,” said Dr. Eckstein, who specializes in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. “It is the most common non-traumatic cause of disability in young people.”

Multiple sclerosis, which is trigged in predisposed individuals by an unknown event, may manifest with a variety of neurological symptoms. Common symptoms include tingling and numbness, visual complaints (double vision, vision loss, pain with eye movement), muscle weakness, incontinence, or debilitating fatigue.

According to Dr. Eckstein, multiple sclerosis can be extremely difficult to diagnose. “Diagnosis is made following a careful, detailed history and neurological examination,” he said. “Additional testing may aid in diagnosis – such as an MRI of the brain or spine, cerebrospinal fluid analysis, and blood work.”

Dr. Eckstein said multiple sclerosis is characterized by episodes, or neurological symptoms lasting more than 24 hours. The disease remains active even when clinically silent. He said the exact cause of multiple sclerosis remains unclear but it is likely that both genetic and environmental factors play a role in its development.

There are a variety of treatments currently available, as well as some treatments currently in development, for people with multiple sclerosis. These treatments – most of which are injectable – are aimed at halting disease activity, preventing new areas of demyelination in the central nervous system, and preventing the accumulation of functional disability.

According to Dr. Eckstein, new treatments and diagnostic tools to better control the disease are on the horizon.

“The goal with multiple sclerosis treatment is to find some type of protective medication, which will hopefully be available in the next five or 10 years,” he said. “An oral agent called BG-12 is an exciting new treatment that has great potential. The pill appears to be safe and effective and is expected to be available by early 2013.”

Dr. Eckstein sees patients at the USA Multiple Sclerosis clinic, a new resource for people with multiple sclerosis in the area. In addition, the USA Medical Center is opening a Neuroscience Infusion Center where both established and investigational therapies in multiple sclerosis can be administered in a monitored environment.

Dr. Eckstein recently gave an overview of multiple sclerosis at the February Med School Café lecture. To view the lecture in its entirety, click here.

For appointments, call (251) 660-5108.

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