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Myriad symptoms of MS difficult to diagnose

Looking back, Nikki Pfeiffer remembers exactly when she began to feel the effects of her MS.

However, it was a long time -- more than a decade -- before doctors made Pfeiffer's diagnosis official. Her story isn't unique.

Despite all the advances in modern medicine, there are no symptoms, physical findings or laboratory tests that can, by themselves, determine if a person has MS.

In Pfeiffer's case, she consulted numerous doctors and underwent equally numerous tests before a doctor finally concluded MS was the cause of her suffering.

Tingling and numbness

Pfeiffer, now 61, said she was in her 30s when she noticed a tingling and numbness in her leg.

"I didn't go see a doctor," Pfeiffer said. "I'm an active person, a busy person.

"I just figured I had a sciatic nerve issue or something like that."

Later, however, when the tingling and numbness grew worse, she did see a doctor.

"I was told I was tired, that I worked too much," Pfeiffer said.

Not satisfied with that diagnosis, Pfeiffer saw another doctor.

"The doctor told me I was vain, that women tend to wear shoes too tight," Pfeiffer said. "He told me to get some shoes that fit me better."

Another episode occurred as Pfeiffer was preparing for a trip to Brazil. Her entire right side went numb.

"I thought I might be having a stroke," Pfeiffer said.

She went to see yet another physician.

"He told me the numbness was linked to the stress of the trip," she said. "He also said I had a vitamin deficiency and that they would take care of it after I got back."

Eventually, Pfeiffer said she suffered an event that forced doctors to take notice.

"I went blind in my left eye in 2002," she said. "The blindness lasted three weeks."

This doctor visit went differently. Pfeiffer was told she either had a blood clot or a brain tumor or MS. After eliminating the other possible causes, doctors told Pfeiffer she had MS. She had experienced the first symptom in 1991. She didn't get a definitive diagnosis until 2002.

In a way, knowing she had MS was a relief.

"It's difficult to deal with something that is unknown," Pfeiffer said. "Knowing what it was helped."

However, she noted, knowing only helps so much because of the many ways MS can affect an individual.

"Every day is different," Pfeiffer said. "You never know what is going to happen."

The experience in diagnosing her MS, as well as living with it, prompted Pfeiffer to form the Multiple Sclerosis Alliance of Southern Colorado, which is based in Colorado Springs, but also serves Pueblo and Southern Colorado. She is tireless in her efforts to help fellow MS sufferers deal with the multitude of issues caused by the malady.

Tricky disease

MS is an insidious ailment. It affects its victims in a myriad of ways. In fact, no two people have exactly the same symptoms.

As an example, one MS sufferer may experience a sudden speech problems and balance issues, while another endures numbness and a pins-and-needles sensation in their legs. Another might struggle with bladder dysfunction and difficulty swallowing.

MS can strike an individual in his or her 20s or 30s, or it can come on later in life -- the 40s, 50s or 60s.

It can be severe or moderate.

This lack of consistent symptoms, not to mention that some symptoms also are common in other ailments, remains a challenge for doctors.

High tech answers

Pfeiffer's struggles to get a diagnosis of her MS were more likely to happen years ago before the improvements in imaging occurred, said Dr. Brad Priebe, a neurologist with the Mountain Medical Group in Colorado Springs.

"Doctors are looking for the simple diagnosis," Priebe said. "It's not necessarily inappropriate. Maybe a patient was suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome or maybe they slept it funny. It's when you start putting that conglomeration of symptoms together that raises a red flag."

Priebe said once an MS patient gets to a neurologist, the diagnosis can occur pretty quickly.

That is happening more often these days because of the improvements in medical technology.

"The ability to use more and more advanced imaging helps us," Priebe said. "We can get that technology, get the data we need to move them (patients) forward toward a diagnosis quite quickly."

Priebe said primary care physicians are more aware than ever of possible MS symptoms.

"It's not infrequent for patients to come in with an MRI already that gives us information to move forward," Priebe said. "That helps speed up the process. They don't have to wait for the MRI to be set up before we can begin our diagnosis."

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by THEPUEBLOCHIEFTAIN
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length

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