NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Updated imaging protocols for patients with multiple sclerosis from a panel of North American neurology and radiology experts promise to improve the accuracy of diagnosis and monitoring.

The guidelines emphasize the use of three-dimensional MRI to provide complete coverage of the brain, monitoring for progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), and optical orbit MRI for severe optic neuritis.

Key clinical guideline changes include more specific timing of brain MRI when monitoring patients receiving disease modifying therapy, timing of brain MRI to monitor for PML, updated evidence of the value of MRI changes in determining the effectiveness of treatment, and the inclusion of radiologic isolated syndrome.

Dr. Anthony Traboulsee of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, discussed the latest MRI guidelines at the annual meeting of the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers.

“MS is a life-long disorder and MRI is one of the best ways to monitor for new lesions that can be occurring in the absence of new symptoms (clinically silent disease activity). These lesions accumulate and lead to future disability. In order to accurately determine if changes are occurring, we need MRIs that are similar in quality over time regardless of where the patient had an MRI performed. A standardized MRI protocol provides this quality of data,” Dr. Traboulsee said.

The guidelines, published in the American Journal of Neuroradiology ( Am J Neuroradiol. 2015 Nov 12. doi: 10.3174/ajnr.A4539 ), recommend a first MRI as soon as a physician suspects MS in a patient, with subsequent MRIs typically done annually to determine whether the disease is stable or progressive, which could prompt a change in treatment. “Breakthrough activity on MRI that is occurring while on treatment can lead to future disability and is an opportunity to consider switching therapy,” Dr. Traboulsee said.

More frequent scans could be appropriate for patients with a more aggressive and active disease course, and when treatment has been changed. More frequent monitoring and diffusion-weighted imaging is also recommended for patients taking natalizumab (Tysabri), since they are at high risk for PML.

Another goal of the guidelines is to describe how best to use MRI to support an early diagnosis of MS and to help avoid misdiagnosis. Early treatment depends on an early diagnosis. “We find the biggest impact of our disease-modifying therapy is in the first decade. The goal is to prevent new injury and optimize brain health through treatment and lifestyle,” said Dr. Traboulsee.

MRI scans alone should not be diagnostic. Clinical information is also needed, such as numbness or problems with balance. Abnormal brain MRIs occur in about 5% of people without MS and white spots in the brain that are unrelated to MS can naturally develop as people age.

If clinically isolated syndrome is suspected, a cervical cord MRI should be done along with a brain MRI. Use of a gadolinium contrast agent is recommended to better determine disease activity and speed diagnosis.

Dr. Traboulsee received grant support from Biogen, Chugai, Hoffman la Roche, and Sanofi Genzyme. He reported being a steering committee member for Hoffman la Roche and has been a consultant to Biogen, Chugai, EMD Serono, Hoffman la Roche, MedImmune, Sanofi Genzyme, and Teva Neuroscience.


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