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'Benign' MS may not be so benign

People who have multiple sclerosis (MS) for 10 years and have few of the disabling symptoms of the disease are often told they have "benign MS" and that their symptoms will likely not ever occur to the same extent as other people with MS.

A new study, published in the February 13, 2007, issue of Neurology®, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology, shows that unfortunately this may not be correct.

After 20 years, the disease had progressed in nearly half of those whose MS was benign at 10 years, according to the study.

The study of 169 people whose MS was benign after 10 years found that after 20 years the disease had progressed in 21 percent to the extent that they needed a cane to walk. Most of the patients had the relapsing-remitting form of the disease, where symptoms come and go. But after 20 years, about 20 percent of the people had developed the secondary-progressive form of the disease, where the disease steadily progresses.

"We need to be careful what we tell people, and not give them false hope that their symptoms may never get worse," said lead study author Ana-Luiza Sayao, MD, of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

"We hoped to identify risk factors that make people more likely to progress in the disease after 10 years of a benign course, but we did not find that gender, the symptoms when the disease began, or age when the disease began were associated with either disease progression or remaining benign," said study author Virginia Devonshire, MD, of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. "More research needs to be done to identify criteria to determine which people will remain with mild disability over the long term."

Angela Babb | EurekAlert!
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