Holy Name Medical Center Blog

Eye Issues: A First Sign of Multiple Sclerosis

Posted by Asya Wallach, MD, Neurologist
The Alfiero and Lucia Palestroni Foundation MS Center
at Holy Name Medical Center on March 10, 2021
Asya Wallach, MD, Neurologist at Holy Name Medical Center

In patients with multiple sclerosis, the body's own defense mechanisms attack the central nervous system, eroding protective protein coverings (called myelin) on nerves and interfering with their function.

This immune disorder affects the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves and can provoke a variety of neurological symptoms, including fatigue, numbness, weakness, difficulty in walking or even thinking.

Vision Issues are Common

Vision problems frequently are a first sign of MS and affect about 80 percent of patients with the disease. In fact, vision issues are what often prompt patients to seek the medical treatment that eventually leads to their diagnosis.

Optic neuritis – decreased vision or pain moving the eye due to inflammation of the optic nerve – is most common; patients describe it as looking through a screen, blurry vision, or if very extreme – complete loss of vision. It can affect one or both eyes. Optic neuritis, although common in MS, is also a feature of other autoimmune diseases. In some situations, it may also be an isolated problem, thus a thorough evaluation by an ophthalmologist and neurologist is critical.

Fortunately, there are good treatment options available. Most people have some degree of recovery after an initial attack of optic neuritis, and intravenous steroids can hasten that healing. Receiving an accurate diagnosis and treatment quickly is most important, as patients can benefit from early disease-modifying treatment.

Promising New MS Therapies

At the MS Center at Holy Name, we now have 22 disease-modifying treatments, many of which have become available in recent years. Most of the new drugs work to suppress or regulate the body’s immune system response.

In addition, while there is no cure for MS, these new medications can reduce relapses and slow the progression of the disease. We are also participating in a number of clinical trials that offer our patients access to emerging treatments.

Lifelong Care and Partnership

The MS Center offers patients a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary approach that provides patients with seamless, personalized care from diagnosis through treatment and maintenance. We have access to a state-of the art radiology department with a powerful 3-tesla (3T) MRI scanner; an on-site infusion center, where some of the medicines can be administered; and skilled medical assistants. Our patients have access to all specialists on staff at the medical center, and we work closely with our colleagues in rehabilitation (including physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy), neuropsychological counseling/neurocognitive testing, and nutrition.

I’m pleased to be part of the team that is headed by Dr. Mary Ann Picone, the center’s medical director and an expert in the field. A dedicated psychologist, nurse practitioner, registered nurses, medical assistants, social worker, and prior authorization expert round out our team.

A lifelong condition, MS can be frightening and unpredictable. The MS Center offers patients a port in the storm. Most patients are diagnosed in their 20s to 40s and need to learn to live with and manage this chronic disease. Therefore, it’s helpful to build a long-term relationship with your doctor and caregivers.

It can be complicated to navigate the array of new treatment options. I’m a strong believer that you need to have a team in place and access to an array of services. The MS Center provides that, drawing patients from all over New Jersey and the greater metropolitan region.

Asya Wallach, MD, is a board-certified neurologist whose fellowship in multiple sclerosis was supported by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. She has a particular interest in optic neuritis, adult and pediatric-onset MS, and other inflammatory diseases of the central nervous system, including NMO (neuromyelitis optica) and MOG (myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein)-antibody syndrome. Dr. Wallach has worked with a number of research groups and presented her work at multiple national and international conferences, as well as published invited articles and original research in peer reviewed journals.

The Alfiero & Lucia Palestroni Foundation Multiple Sclerosis Center at Holy Name Medical Center recently celebrated its 35th anniversary. The center is one of a select few of its kind in the region to be affiliated with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. For more information: 201-837-0727 or HolyName.org/MSCenter.