At the University of Houston-based Multiple Sclerosis Eye Center for Analysis, Research and Education, or MS Eye CARE, clinicians, and researchers are using various eye examinations to look for abnormalities in the optic nerve fibers that would indicate a high index of suspicion for a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Many published case studies have shown that in more than half of MS patients, the neurological disorder first attacks the optic nerve, causing spotty or blurry vision and temporary or permanent loss of sight.
In MS, the immune system attacks the protective layers that surround nerve fibers known as myelin. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the disease affects 400,000 Americans and 2.5 million people around the world. Symptoms are unpredictable and can vary widely, although many people experience loss of muscle coordination, tremors and vision problems.
MS Eye CARE is directed by a neuro-ophthalmologist who collaborates with other neuro-ophthalmologists, optometrists, Ph.D. researchers and doctoral students. It is a joint effort between the University Eye Institute at the University of Houston College of Optometry and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
The center uses four different tests to detect ocular signs of MS: visual field tests, laser scanning testing such as the optical coherence tomography (OCT), GDX, HRT, visual evoked potential (VEP) and multi-focal VEP. While a number of MS facilities around the country use similar instrumentation, the centers partnership with an optometry college and efforts to teach medical students as well as optometry students how to spot signs in the eye that suggest a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis makes the service unique.
By focusing on catching the disorder when it first affects the eyes, we are helping patients with early diagnosis and referring them to neurologists for further diagnostic confirmation and when indicated, treatment that may slow the progression of the disease, says Rosa Tang, MD, MPH, a neuro-ophthalmologist and the co-director of MS Eye CARE.
Since the MS Eye CARE Center opened in 2005, nearly 500 patients have been evaluated. Some patients have traveled from as far away as the Middle East and South America. Neurologists and other physicians refer many of the international patients, while others have found the facility online at www.neuroeye.com/mseyecare.htm.
According to Dr. Tang, one-third of the patients believed to have MS who are known as MS suspects, were actually found to have other types of ailments. Those patients were asked to seek additional consultation at neurological centers in their local area to reconfirm or follow the findings.
No individual test diagnoses MS or excludes the disorder. MS is a clinical diagnosis based on very specific criteria. Ancillary testing such as a brain or spine MRI scan or less commonly, a spinal tap, are helpful in the diagnosis. MRI scans are currently the primary tests used to show images of MS plaques in the brain and spine. Unfortunately, the cost of an MRI scan can be several thousands dollars, whereas MS Eye CARE'S tests are significantly less expensive. The center also offers a subsidized program for patients who have been diagnosed with MS and who have eye problems. This program covers 70% to 95% of the bill for MS patients unable to pay the full cost of the exams.
To schedule an appointment with MS Eye CARE, call (713) 942-2187.