June 18, 2012 at 1:00 PM ET
As reality star Jack Osbourne comes to terms with his recent diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, he may take comfort in knowing that with the right medications and doctors, experts say that patients like him have a good chance of leading a fulfilling life.
“The prognosis now is better than it’s ever been,” says neurologist Dr. David Snyder, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at New York Hospital Queens. “We have treatments we just never had before.”
Osbourne is the son of Ozzy Osbourne, and was introduced to the public eye in the "The Osbournes," the MTV reality series featuring the domestic life the Osbourne family. The 26-year-old told People magazine that he was diagnosed with MS earlier this spring.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system that has no cure and is highly treatable. In MS, inflammation in the brain and spinal cord causes the loss of myelin, the insulation around nerves. Symptoms include loss of vision, numbness, tingling, excessive fatigue and weakness. They can range from mild to severe.
Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s chief medical editor, said on TODAY this morning that any organ system in the body can be affected by MS.
“Every nerve has insulation around it and MS attacks that insulation so that the electrical impulses from the brain to tips of fingers and toes don’t work as well,” she said. Of Osbourne, she added: “So he’s going to have to be really in tune with his body.”
Most people with MS need medication, Snyder said. Current treatments, “to varying degrees, slow down the process of the MS,” he said. “They don’t do it 100 percent of time for 100 percent of the patients,” but they can reduce the frequency of MS flare-ups.
Before MS medications became available around 1994, Snyder said of patients: “I would wish them good luck.”
“Now somebody on medication, treated early, we’re very hopefully we’re interrupting the natural course of the disease,” he said. “Patients are leading full lives, with families, jobs and travel.”
Some people don't respond well to treatments, Snyder said, but many do.
“There’s a very large group that are functioning and have full lives,” Snyder says. “Those lives may have to be modified somewhat - they may need a cane or have to take precautions but they lead full lives.”
Snyderman said of Osbourne: “It’s likely that, with a good team of doctors, he’s going to have a robust and wonderful life.”
There are about 400,000 people in the U.S. with MS and about 200 new cases are diagnosed each week, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Like other autoimmune diseases, MS affects more women than men. The society says MS is two to three times more common in women.
Most cases are diagnosed when people are in their late teens, 20s and 30s, Snyder says, although there are childhood cases, as well as diagnoses made when patients are in their 50s and 60s.
“He’s right at the peak,” Snyder says of Osbourne. “The age is not unusual at all.”
As for his gender, Snyder said, although the disease is more common in women, “it’s not rare among men.”
For people of Osbourne’s age, Snyder gave a relatively bright outlook.
“I’m optimistic that future medications and treatments will allow them to live even better lives than people are now,” he said. “Things are only going to get better.”