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New Jersey workers with MS are optimistic about research efforts

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates that more than 400,000 Americans -- including at least 13,000 in New Jersey -- are affected by multiple sclerosis. However, workers in New Jersey who have been diagnosed with MS may take heart in two recent developments which are advancing our understanding and awareness of the disease.

The first is recent high profile discussions of the disease by celebrities including Jack Osbourne, the son of rock star Ozzy Osbourne, and Ann Romney, wife of presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Both individuals, who have been diagnosed with MS, hope to further public awareness through sharing their own stories.

The other news item is a research project at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey - Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. The researchers are studying the cells that protect neurons in the normal nervous system and repair damage to the protective covering which surrounds nerve cells. The team is also collaborating with the Brain Health Institute at Rutgers University, and both groups report they are making advances.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system. Through inflammation, the chronic disease damages the protective covering which surrounds nerve cells, usually along the brain, optic nerve or spinal cord. The inflammation occurs when a person's own immune cells attack the nervous system. The nerve damage causes nerve signals to slow or even stop.

Due to its chronic nature, MS is often disabling. However, individual experiences of MS can be very different, depending on whether the damaged cells are located in the brain, spinal cord or optic nerves. Fortunately, an increasing number of medications have been successful in slowing the effects of MS. In fact, one doctor reports that many MS patients can remain very active.

Better technology is also enabling doctors to diagnose the disease in its early stages, which can make treatments more effective. To screen for the disease, a neurologist or other specialist will typically order an MRI to look for damage to the nervous system and nerve cells. For many people, the first sign of MS is extreme, unexplained fatigue. Patients may also have blurred vision or partial blindness, problems walking, and tingling or numbness in limbs.

Most MS patients are initially diagnosed with a relapsing form of the disease, in which occasional flare-ups are followed by a recovery. However, others develop a progressive form of MS, in which the decline is steady. In both cases, SSDI benefits may be available when the disease prevents an individual from fulfilling his or her work duties.

Source: NorthJersey.com, "Celebrities drawing attention to multiple sclerosis a sign of hope for N.J. patients," Lindy Washburn, Sept. 24, 2012

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