The apparently milder course of multiple sclerosis: changes in the diagnostic criteria, therapy and natural history

Per Soelberg Sorensen, Finn Sellebjerg, Hans-Peter Hartung, Xavier Montalban, Giancarlo Comi, Mar Tintoré
Brain 2020 September 1, 143 (9): 2637-2652
In the past decade, changes have occurred in the spectrum of multiple sclerosis courses. The natural history of multiple sclerosis appears milder from the first sign of demyelinating disease to the progressive course, probably as a result of an interplay between several factors including changes in the diagnostic criteria, changes in the epidemiology of multiple sclerosis, impact of early and appropriate disease-modifying treatment and improvement of the general state of health in the population. It has been suggested to regard incidental findings of demyelinating lesions in MRI in individuals without any history of clinical symptoms consistent with neurological dysfunction, so-called radiological isolated syndrome, as the initial course of multiple sclerosis. New diagnostic criteria have enabled the multiple sclerosis diagnosis in many patients at the first clinical demyelinating event, clinically isolated syndrome. The remaining patients with clinically isolated syndrome have a more benign prognosis, and for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, the prognosis has become more favourable. Reduced disease activity in patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis can partly be ascribed to more efficacious new disease-modifying therapies but decrease in disease activity has also be seen in placebo-treated patients in clinical trials. This may be explained by several factors: change in the diagnostic criteria, more explicit inclusion criteria, exclusion of high-risk patients e.g. patients with co-morbidities, and more rigorous definitions of relapses and disease worsening. However, these factors also make the disease course in patients treated with disease-modifying therapies seem more favourable. In addition, change in the therapeutic target to stable disease (no evidence of disease activity = no relapses, no disease worsening and no MRI activity) could by itself change the course in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. The effectiveness of disease-modifying drugs has reduced the transition from relapsing-remitting to secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. The concept of progressive multiple sclerosis has also evolved from two very distinct categories (primary progressive and secondary progressive multiple sclerosis) to a unified category of progressive multiple sclerosis, which can then be split into the categories of active or inactive. Also, an increasing tendency to treat progressive multiple sclerosis with disease-modifying therapies may have contributed to change the course in progressive multiple sclerosis. In conclusion, during the past decade the entire course of multiple sclerosis from the first sign of a demyelinating disorder through the progressive course appears to be milder due to a complex interplay of several factors.

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