Intrathecal Baclofen Pump Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

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What is multiple sclerosis (MS)?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that causes demyelination of the brain and spinal cord, or a loss of the protective covering around nerve fibers called axons. When this occurs, the axons (the parts of the nerve cells that transmit impulses to other cells) don't work well. As more areas are affected by the loss of myelin, different symptoms develop. The specific symptoms seen in MS are related to the area of injury in the brain or spinal cord. Patients might experience or describe numbness, tingling, or weakness. The weakness might be mild or severe enough to cause paralysis of one side of the body. In some cases, patients may develop loss of control of their bladder or an inability to empty their bladder. As MS progresses, some patients are left with muscle spasticity, which is an involuntary painful contraction of some muscles.

What is spasticity?

Spasticity is a condition in which muscles are exhibiting almost constant contracture or activity, leading to loss of range of motion, decreased function, and even pain. Spasticity occurs after an area of the brain or spinal cord has been injured, leading to weakness and increased tone. When an arm or leg that is affected by spasticity is moved by a health-care professional, there is involuntary resistance to that movement. Often, this spasticity is made worse when the speed (or velocity) of the movement increases. Spasticity is often seen in association with a brain injury, such as after:

  • a stroke,
  • traumatic damage to the brain or spinal cord, or
  • in cases of MS.

What is baclofen, and what are its side effects?

Baclofen is a medication that works in the brain to decrease uninhibited signals that start in an injured area of the brain and cause spasticity. By decreasing these signals, the affected muscle can relax somewhat, and the symptoms of spasticity can be reduced. When taken in pill form baclofen can be effective, but can lead to side effects such as:

These side effects can limit the amount of medication that can be used to decrease the symptoms of spasticity. However, the medication can also be injected around the spinal cord, directly into the cerebral spinal fluid. When used in this way, only small amounts of the medication are needed, and side effects may be reduced.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/27/2015

Multiple Sclerosis Pictures Slideshow: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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Picture of nerve pathways

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Treatment Options

Treatment of MS depends on the stage and symptoms of the disease. Examples of drugs used to treat multiple sclerosis include:

  • Interferons
  • glatiramer acetate (Copaxone)
  • natalizumab (Tysabri)
  • alemtuzumab (Lemtrada)
  • mitoxantrone (Novantrone)

MS symptoms also may be managed with prescription drugs.