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Evolving management of optic neuritis and multiple sclerosis.

PURPOSE: To review the relation of optic neuritis to multiple sclerosis (MS) and the indications, modalities, and results of therapy for optic neuritis, for both visual and general neurologic function.

DESIGN: Literature review and author's experience.

METHODS: Analysis of both laboratory and clinical evidence supporting the use of corticosteroids, immunomodulation agents, and other modalities in the treatment of optic neuritis and MS.

RESULTS: Although treatment of optic neuritis with corticosteroids may hasten visual recovery to a minor degree, it has no long-term beneficial effect on visual outcome. Optic neuritis is frequently the initial manifestation of multiple sclerosis. The risk of later development of clinically definite MS (CDMS) correlates with white matter demyelinative lesions on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The role of corticosteroid therapy alone in reducing the risk of subsequent MS is unclear, but recent studies suggest that the combination of immunomodulation agents (IMAs) and corticosteroids significantly reduces the later development of MS. Current research indicates that, contrary to previous doctrine, axonal damage is an early finding in MS.

CONCLUSIONS: The risk of MS after optic neuritis may be predicted. The use of corticosteroids and IMAs, particularly in those at substantial risk, reduces the frequency and severity of developing CDMS. Earlier, more aggressive therapy in optic neuritis may be proven to reduce permanent axonal injury and progressive disability in MS.

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