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Controversial Vein Procedure Helps Multiple Sclerosis Patients

The annual meeting of the Society of Interventional Radiology featured two presentations suggesting that patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) demonstrated improved symptoms after undergoing procedures to remove blockages from their veins. Dr. Michael Drake, a surgery professor at Stanford University in California, backed the findings and said that this has been his experience with a number of MS patients.

However, Dr. Lily Jung Henson, a neurology professor at the University of Washington, reported to WebMD that the announcement at the annual meeting may not prove that the vein procedure actually helps MS patients recover. Henson urged patients with multiple sclerosis to wait before trying the vein procedure. Neither of these physicians participated in the aforementioned new studies.

Clearing Venous Blockages with Balloon Angioplasty

Most multiple sclerosis patients display a broad range of physical and mental symptoms. MS sufferers often have trouble with physical movement or cognition. These MS symptoms are believed to be caused by the body’s own immune system attacking neural and muscular nerves. So far there has not been a cure developed for MS. Treatment for multiple sclerosis at this time involves prescription drugs designed to weaken the immune system’s response to the nerves.

Researchers have known for some time that some MS patients have blocked veins in their necks or chest areas. Studies have not been able to determine whether this issue with the veins causes MS or the MS causes the blockages in the veins to form. But the new studies concluded this month studies were designed to find the link between the two conditions, and see is symptoms of multiple sclerosis could be improved with treatment of the vein condition. Many thought that the results were promising.

The vein procedure in question is balloon angioplasty. This method of blockage removal is most often performed to clear blocked arteries. However, vein surgeons recently looked into performing balloon angioplasty on veins. During the vein procedure, an ultrasound device is used to locate the clogged veins. Once any blockages are located, a tiny balloon is inserted into the vein using a thin catheter. When the catheter is in place, the balloon is inflated, which forced the walls of targeted vein to stretch or widen, promoting overall blood flow. The balloon is removed after the block has been removed. Sometimes the surgeon will place stents at the location where the vein was treated. Stents are used to hold open the veins if clearing with the balloon angioplasty procedure is not sufficient.

Results of Studies Produce Mixed Messages

A team from Rush University in Illinois talked to 89 patients who had been diagnosed with MS and then had undergone the vein procedure. 48 of the patients said that they definitely got better after the blockage were removed from their veins. The rest of the subjects did not show improvement or were not sure about whether the improvement was significant. Most of the MS patients who noticed clear improvements had been previously diagnosed with a form of multiple sclerosis categorized as “relapsing-remitting.”

For some, the vein procedure actually caused more harm than good. 3 patients developed blood clots in the treated veins; 3 patients experienced post-procedural bleeding at site where the balloon catheter had been inserted; 1 patient actually died four months later, though it is not certain that cause of death was related to the vein procedure or multiple sclerosis.

A second study was conducted by researchers in New York. This study observed a total of 213 subjects and procured comparable results. Improvements to MS symptoms occurred when MS patients who had been diagnosed within 5 years underwent the balloon angioplasty to remove blockages from their veins. Experts said that further research is needed to figure out what exactly blocks the chest and neck veins in MS patients. Researchers also need to perform blind studies for maximum objectivity. Until we know more about each condition, traditional treatment should not be foregone.

To learn more about procedures that treat veins, find a vein doctor.

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