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Early Diagnosis and Treatment Can Change Course of Multiple Sclerosis

Effective treatment and management of multiple sclerosis (MS) begins with early and proper diagnosis. "If early treatment is sought, new therapies can reduce symptoms and change the course of the disease," says Rana Zabad, MD, neurologist and director of the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic at Nebraska Medicine.

Rana Zabad, MD
Rana Zabad, MD

"However, the episodic nature of the disease as well as the fact that no two cases are alike can make the disease difficult to diagnose. While diagnosis is improving, even in the best hands, the disease is often both under and over-diagnosed."

The Multiple Sclerosis Clinic at Nebraska Medicine is home to one of the most comprehensive MS clinics in the region and manages some of the most complex patients. It is the only affiliate of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in Nebraska. It is also a part of the Consortium for Multiple Sclerosis Centers, a network of more than 150 MS centers that endorses a strong, multidisciplinary approach and full continuum of care.

The clinic follows more than 1,500 MS patients, staffs the only two MS-trained medical specialists in the area and is supported by an experienced and dedicated staff. Patients also benefit from the expertise of consulting specialists in areas such as physical and occupational therapy, psychiatry, neuro-ophthalmology, urology, pain management and OB/GYN.

But it is the dedication of the staff to their patients and their well-being that really separates the clinic from others, says Dr. Zabad. "We're committed to our patients from diagnosis to death," she says. "We get to know our patients on a personal level because we're not just providing MS therapy, we're providing a comprehensive approach to care that addresses the physical, psychosocial and economic situation of each patient. Because MS affects each person differently, treating the whole person and their individual symptoms can make a significant difference in their quality of life."

The MS staff also includes MS-trained neurologist Mac McLaughlin, MD; physician assistant Neil C. Jouvenat ll, PA-C, who has been with the clinic since 2007; and Kathleen Healey, APRN-CPAC, a nurse practitioner who has been with the clinic for more than 14 years and has completed a PhD that focused on MS.

Mac McLaughlin, MD
Mac McLaughlin, MD

The depth of experience and expertise provided by the clinic is important, says Dr. Zabad, because MS is a very complex disease. It is one of the most common chronic neurologic disorders of the central nervous system, affecting approximately 400,000 people in the United States and approximately 7,000 people in Nebraska.

Over the past 20 years, the use of MRI has greatly improved diagnosis of the disease and is making it possible to diagnose the disease earlier in the disease process. "An MRI image can show areas of active inflammation, which indicates early signs of MS, and the location and size of lesions and plaques," says Dr. McLaughlin.

Once a diagnosis is confirmed, an individualized treatment is developed. "Treatment for MS has improved tremendously over the last 20 years," says Dr. McLaughlin. "Before the 1990s, we had no drugs for MS patients. The introduction of disease-modifying therapies in the early 1990s changed the way we treat MS patients. There are now 12 FDA-approved therapies available."

New treatment therapies combined with aggressive management of symptoms which includes a combination of oral medications, physical therapy and subspecialty care continues to improve the outlook for individuals with MS. "Most patients can now go on to live fairly normal lives," says Dr. Zabad.

The future for MS holds promise. "There's still so much we don't know about MS, but we are learning a lot very quickly," says Dr. McLaughlin. "It is the most actively studied field in neurology and it is seeing some of the most advancements." Nebraska Medicine is part of that research and participates in clinical trials to give patients the opportunity to be a part of new advancements and breakthrough therapies.

To learn more about the clinic or to speak to a member of the Multiple Sclerosis team, call 877-647-7497 or go to