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Sunday, 20 January, 2002, 00:33 GMT
Sleep drug beats MS fatigue
Many MS sufferers are hit by fatigue
Many MS sufferers are hit by fatigue
A drug normally used to treat excessive sleepiness could help beat the devastating fatigue associated with multiple sclerosis, research suggests.

The drug is usually used to treat narcolepsy, a sleep disorder linked to excessive daytime sleepiness and disturbed sleep at night.

But US trials found it also caused a "highly significant" reduction in the extreme tiredness that is a common symptom of multiple sclerosis (MS).

MS fatigue is not like normal tiredness - experts describe it as "deadening".

We were very pleased to find that a medication that was effective against narcolepsy was able to treat the fatigue associated with multiple sclerosis

Dr Kottil Rammohan
It affects up to 90% of patients with MS, and as many as two thirds are estimated to experience fatigue on a daily basis.

MS is a progressive disease of the nervous system, with no known cure, which affects around 85, 000 people in the UK.

In addition to fatigue, patients experience a range of symptoms including loss of vision and motor function, sensory impairment, imbalance, bowel and bladder dysfunction, and sometimes problems related to cognition, memory and personality.

Although many therapies have been developed, few have helped to relieve the symptom of fatigue.

Exciting discovery

Researchers at the Ohio State University Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente in San Diego decided to look at the narcolepsy drug modafinil.

They compared how MS patients felt after taking two different doses of the drug, 200 and 400 milligrams, with a placebo medication.

Seventy-two patients aged 18 to 65 took part in the study.

Those patients who received a 200 mg dose of the drug once a day showed highly significant improvements, according to three separate ways of measuring fatigue.

It was also found that patients receiving the drug had no worse side effects than those who received the placebo.

The researchers say this is the first time a drug has demonstrated this degree of improvement in treating MS related fatigue in a clinical trial.

'No serious side effects'

Dr Kottil Rammohan, a neurologist at the Ohio State University Medical Center, who led the research, said: "We were very pleased to find that a medication that was effective against narcolepsy was able to treat the fatigue associated with multiple sclerosis."

He added: "It is always exciting to find an effective therapy that is void of serious side effects."

More research will be needed to provide detailed information about the optimum dosage and length of treatment using modafinil.

But Dr Rammohan said he hoped more neurologists would start using the drug.

Alan Thompson, professor of neurology and neurorehabilitation at the Institute of Neurology in Queen Square, speaking on behalf of the MS Society in the UK told BBC News Online: "This a welcome addition to the armoury, but what we do know of the treatment is that it suits some people better than others.

He added: "Fatigue in MS is a very very common symptom. The problem is one that a lot of people would put top of their list of their symptoms.

"MS fatigue is not like tiredness, not the same as you or I would feel. It's a deadening, leadening type of fatigue.

"Anything which ability to alleviate that symptom is very much to be welcomed."

The study is published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

See also:

05 Dec 01 | Scotland
Petition seeks action on MS drug
31 Oct 01 | Health
Trial planned for MS drugs
17 Oct 01 | Health
MS reversed in lab
29 Oct 01 | Health
MS drug may be a first
30 Nov 98 | Medical notes
Multiple sclerosis
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