MS patients slipping past timely diagnosis

Updated: 2013-05-27 07:08

By Shan Juan (China Daily)

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MS patients slipping past timely diagnosis

Better diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in China will significantly improve patients' chances in fighting the disease, expert said.

"About 80 percent of MS patients in China are not diagnosed in a timely and proper fashion, largely because of poor awareness, even in the medical community," Zhang Hua, a Beijing Hospital neurologist, said at a media event on Sunday to mark World MS Day, which falls on Wednesday.

At the event, an MS diagnosis and treatment network of 31 hospitals across 17 provinces and municipalities was established to improve patients' access to effective medical services.

MS is an inflammatory disease that affects the ability brain and spinal cord cells to communicate with each other. It often leads to physical and cognitive disability, medical experts said.

The onset of the disease usually occurs between age 20 and 40. The disease is more common in women.

China has more than 60,000 MS patients.

Although the disease is incurable, early detection and treatment can prevent or slow the onset of disability, said Zhang Xinghu, a professor in the neurology department of Beijing Tiantan Hospital, which is affiliated with Capital Medical University.

"Timely treatment enabled by early detection could help substantially avert or delay a relapse, which I call 'aftershocks'," he said.

Zhang said patients often ask him how long they'll still be able to walk and if they'll be able to continue with their lives.

"I'd like to refer to Ann Romney", wife of Mitt Romney, Barack Obama's opponent in the 2012 US presidential election, Zhang said.

Ann, 64, was diagnosed with MS in 1998 and is still doing well because of the treatment she is receiving.

With proper treatment, most patients have a normal life expectancy, but a few who develop serious disabilities die prematurely from infectious complications such as pneumonia, experts said.

However, Zhang said the situation in China is a lot worse, and he called for early detection and treatment.

More than half of the Chinese patients end up in wheelchairs after 20 years with the disease, he said.

More than half suffer depression and are likely to commit suicide, he said.

Anyone experiencing symptoms such as numbness or tingling in their extremities, optic problems, muscle weakness particularly in the arms and legs, and sometimes breathing difficulty, should immediately see a doctor, he said.

MS treatment costs up to 80,000 yuan ($13,000) a year and is not covered by most medical insurance policies.

(China Daily USA 05/27/2013 page5)