NYM Opens Only Multiple Sclerosis Center in Brooklyn

Nov 10, 2006

Approximately 500,000 Americans are living with multiple sclerosis (MS), a life-long autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. To offer the latest in diagnostic and treatment options, New York Methodist Hospital recently opened the only MS Center in Brooklyn and one of few in the New York area.

In MS, the immune system primarily attacks the body's myelin, the tissue coating the nerves in the central nervous system, resulting in poor conduction of the brain's normal electrical impulses. What causes the body's immune system to attack the myelin is unknown, but it appears to be triggered by a combination of genetic and environmental factors including possible viral exposure, vitamin D and reduced sun exposure prior to adulthood.

A doctor examining a patient

Alexandra Degenhardt, M.D., director of the new MS Center at NYM, examines a patient.

Diagnosing MS is often difficult because its symptoms can mimic other illnesses and they tend to come and go. "There is a huge range of symptoms - among them weakness, muscle spasms, numbness, blurry vision, double vision, fatigue, urinary frequency and/or incontinence," said Alexandra Degenhardt, M.D., M.M.Sc., director of the new MS Center, who after receiving an M.D. degree from the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, continued her neurology training at the Beth Isreael Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard University, followed by research at Harvard Medical School and Oxford University. "MS is more common in women than men and most people with MS are diagnosed in early adulthood, although the range is between the ages of 18 and 60," said Dr. Degenhardt, who noted that physicians now have many new techniques, including improved MRI testing, to aid diagnosis. Some studies suggest that individuals who begin treatment earlier may do better than those who delay diagnosis and treatment.

Because symptoms differ from person to person, treatment options vary depending on the type of MS diagnosed: relapsing-remitting, secondary progressive or primary progressive MS.

At NYM, physicians are particularly skilled in finding the correct combination of treatments geared for both the disease itself and its symptoms. Treatments for the disease include steroid infusions and immunomodulatory therapies like interferons or chemotherapy. Various rehabilitation methods are also often suggested to help patients restore or maintain functions essential to their daily living. "Although there is currently no cure for MS, with today's treatments, patients can live a better quality of life," said Dr. Degenhardt.

At the MS Center, patients benefit from a supportive, multidisciplinary approach.

In addition to being cared for by a neurologist specializing in MS, patients have access to physicians specializing in related disciplines including urogynecology, physical and occupational therapy and psychiatry. "There was a major need in Brooklyn for a center that offered patients a place to go if they thought they had MS or if they were diagnosed with it and wanted to learn how to better manage the disease," said Miran Salgado, M.D., chairman of the Department of Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine at NYM. "Now, New York Methodist Hospital is able to provide such a place."

For more information on the MS Center at NYM, please call 718-780-8812.