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Most medical advances usually carry with them a host of controversy and debate over their ethical and health implications.  One of the most controversial medical interventions in recent history is stem cell therapy.  How the cells are harvested and whether it can lead to problems with getting cells from an unborn child are just some of the concerns surrounding the therapy.  Despite these problems, it is hard to argue about the fact that stem cells produce some amazing results.  One recent advancement in this area is the role of stem cells in multiple sclerosis.

Bristol University recently conducted a clinical trial in which patients living with multiple sclerosis were injected with stem cells from their own bone marrow.  The researchers wanted to determine whether the procedure was safe and what, if any, side effects occurred.  As a secondary research goal, the team wanted to examine what role the stem cells played in the disease progression.  At the conclusion of the study, the researchers found that no severe side effects existed and that the procedure appeared relatively safe.  Furthermore, in five of the six patients the disease remained stable over the course of the study and injections.  What is even more exciting is that none of the patients receiving the bone marrow had their condition deteriorate over a twelve month period.

One of the researchers reported that the team thought that the disease would continue its deteriorating spiral.  With these results, they were expectedly excited and noted that the treatment was relatively painless and did not require an overnight hospital stay.  The researchers also believe that the bone marrow cells have some protective properties, including neuroprotection and immune modulation, according to BioNews.  Although this clinical trial was preliminary and much more, broader scope studies will be needed, the researchers are encouraged by these results.  Many of the volunteers were excited about the results and commented on how painless the procedure was.

Using a patient’s own bone marrow cells carry many advantages aside from possibly curing or reducing the impact of multiple sclerosis.  Because they come directly from the patient, there are really no ethical problems and the rejection rate of the cells is much lower.  The stem cells may play a radically changing role in the way chronic conditions are handled.  If these cells can be harvested from a person’s own body for treatment of a disease in another part of the body, it will be a miraculous coup.

technorati claim code: N2M598JUW8SX

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Many illnesses are cut and dry.  For instance, if you develop skin cancer or melanoma, there is a chance that sun exposure aggravated the dormant disease, causing it to promulgate in your body.  Or, if you get the common cold, you likely touched a handle, shook someone’s hand, or picked up something that someone else touched who already had the virus.  But, with some diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, there is little information as to why some individuals develop the condition.  Even in an effort to determine the root cause through a study of twins, researchers were still left with more questions than answers.

Most studies of illnesses come down to whether it is nature or nurture as to why the disease develops in the first place.  Researchers from the National Center for Genome Researchers in Santa Fe, New Mexico decided to examine what caused multiple sclerosis by evaluating twins.  They studied three pairs of twins, ranging in age from fifty to nineteen.  What they found was that even though the twins each had the same genetic factors predisposing them to the disability, grew up in the same households, consumed the same food, attended the same schools, etc., only one twin developed multiple sclerosis, while the other did not.  In an effort to figure out why this discrepancy existed, the researchers looked at the genomes of the twins.  According to Money Times, the researchers could not find a genetic reason behind the difference in disease development.  They did, however, conclude that genetics may still play a role in multiple sclerosis because a sibling of a twin who develops the condition has a thirty percent higher chance of also having the disease.

Aside from genetic factors, the researchers also opined as to whether some environmental reasons may cause the flare up of the condition.  For instance, they reasoned that smoking, viral infections, or vitamin D deficiency may all play a role in why multiple sclerosis occurs.  They did not, however, study these factors in their research.  Their desire is to conduct a more thorough study with a larger gene pool.  They want to focus on specific cells and possibly, certain environmental conditions that may contribute to the condition.  Despite the lack of finding a concrete cause for multiple sclerosis, at least we know from this study that they are moving closer to a cause.  Ruling out what can cause something can be just as helpful as ruling in something.

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Here are some important things you should keep in mind while in pursuit of Multiple Sclerosis Disability benefits:

MS is a degenerative condition. Judges are aware that this condition is long-term. However, there are several neuromuscular diseases associated with MS that may hinder your diagnosis. Make sure your physician documents that your disease falls within the Multiple Sclerosis family. You will need a form diagnosis of MS if you want to improve your chances of getting approved for disability.

MS is progresses through several of remissions and flare-ups. In other words, some people may be able to function for certain periods of time, even if the type of work they are doing is moderately physically demanding. This can make it harder to win benefits. So one thing you can do during a hearing is explain that the pressure from attempting to work can cause you to actually go into remission and therefore render you unable to work. This is often the case and can be a powerful way to argue for MS Disability. The kinds of things that can cause flare-ups also include commuting to work and even preparing to go to work.

A Multiple Sclerosis file should document ER or physician visits throughout the time of disability and even leading up to the hearing. If you don’t go to the doctor often or you can’t afford medical treatment, make sure you have a diary describing your symptoms for evidence. Evidence is needed to back up your Multiple Sclerosis Disability claim.

You need to appear as a credible/believable witness. In the past, my MS clients who have succeeded have all come across in the hearing as very credible – they had long, consistent work histories and clearly communicated that would prefer to land back in the work force if they had their choice. In other word, if they were healthy enough to go back into the workforce, they would.

In conclusion, a firm MS diagnosis, a good argument for disability, good medical records, and an appearance of credibility/a strong testimony will more than likely help you succeed in winning Multiple Sclerosis Disability benefits.

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Often we discuss the overlying biological functions behind a chronic illness and speak in generalities about its symptoms.  For instance, with multiple sclerosis we know that it is a neurological impairment and that it causes flare-ups, difficulty walking, and the impairment of other important motor skills.  Multiple sclerosis, like many other chronic illnesses, is considered a disability by the Social Security Administration because the symptoms make it largely impossible for an individual to complete the necessary tasks of his/her job.  But what other symptoms persist in those suffering with multiple sclerosis that may make it difficult for them to work?  One is pseudobulbar affect (PBA), which is a neurological variance where a person is overcome with involuntary and sudden emotions, such as laughing or crying.  It is common in multiple sclerosis patients and can have a damaging impact on an individual’s ability to work, maintain relationships, go to school, or just have a more normal quality of life.  There is, however, a new treatment that may help to control these inconvenient MS-related outbursts.

A study was conducted to determine the effectiveness of combining two different medications, known together as DMQ.  Participants in the study were separated into two groups, one taking DMQ and the other taking a placebo.  After the conclusion of this part of the study, the participants were then provided with the opportunity to continue being involved in another study.  In this additional study every participant took the DMQ medication for an additional twelve weeks.  The participants were periodically tested to measure their PBA responses.  They found that individuals significantly improved by 2.7 points and that the participants who had previously been taking the placebo and then switched to DMQ showed the most improvement.  The study was a great indicator of the effectiveness of DMQ and it shows great promise to be a treatment for PBA, for which there is no current therapy.  The researchers of the study believe that the study gives credence to the medication and sets it up for getting FDA approval.

PBA is a little known but serious side effect of multiple sclerosis, and it can definitely impact an individual’s quality of life.  With nothing else currently on the market, hopefully this new combination drug therapy will be able to bridge that gap and provide some relief.  If you suffer from PBA, discuss this new treatment option with your doctor and ask whether you may be a candidate for this experimental medication.

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On this Multiple Sclerosis Disability Blog, I intend to answer questions posed by clients and/or the general public about the Social Security Disability Claims process. Specifically, this blog will cover concerns related to Multiple Sclerosis and Social Security Disability.

I recently received a pretty comprehensive inquiry from a woman who contacted me via one of my websites. Her progressive MS has finally reached the point where her work is impossible, and she has some questions about starting the disability application process. Below please find her original inquiry plus my comments.

Question:

I am a 33-year-old female elementary school teacher. In 2007, I was diagnosed with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). Up until recently, I was able to continue working as a teacher. However, my physical condition has deteriorated to such that I am no longer able to stand. As a result, I am restricted to using a wheelchair except when I sleep or use the restroom. Because of my having to continuously sit in a wheelchair, I have developed pressure sores on my tailbone. I no longer have the ability to solve day-to-day problems and often become frustrated trying to understand simple instructions. Within the last few months, I have had two relapses, each one being one month apart from the other. A recent MRI shows that I have one lesion situated on the brain.

I have many questions regarding someone who has MS and is applying for disability benefits; however, in order that I have a complete understanding, I would like you to address only one or two of my questions in this post. I have heard and read information from the internet, that individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS) as well as some other medical conditions can be approved and receive disability benefits through a medical vocational allowance. As such, I have heard that the information a claimant reports concerning their work history is very important. As an applicant that is in the beginning phase of the disability application process, can you explain the following: 1). What basic characteristics are the SSA looking for in regards to determining whether I am eligible to receive disability benefits or not, and 2). Why is my work history so important? Is it enough to list only the positions that I have had or do I need to be more specific and include a description of the duties that I performed with each job?

Response:

Absolutely, I would be glad to answer your questions. For individuals who are new to the disability process, it is important that they have a basic understanding of how disability determinations are made as well as an understanding of the basic guidelines required in determining an individual’s eligibility to receive disability benefits. First, the individual/claimant must be able to prove that his or her condition is severe, and secondly, that the condition has lasted or is expected to last for at least twelve months. A third factor that will also be considered is whether an individual’s condition has prevented them from being able to work in a field similar to the one they have worked in the past and whether the same condition has prevented them from being employed in other forms of work. It is important to note that while these are the basics, specific medical conditions have additional requirements.

It is important to note that with any program that affords benefits to individuals, there is a multitude of forms to be completed. It is critical that the information you enter, specifically that information pertaining to both medical and work history, be a thorough as possible. Claimant’s often make the mistake of being vague in their answers. Never assume that the person evaluating your application will know what you truly mean. An illustration may help you and others to understand the importance that information has on one’s application. For example, “Joe” was a construction superintendent for over twenty years. Because of a job related accident, he developed RSD, which in the simplest form, is nerve damage. On his disability application, he graciously noted his work titles and positions over the last twenty years, but sadly, he failed to list what kind of activities his job required. While “Joe” now is unable to walk without the assistance of a crutch, the person evaluating his case could conclude that he is able to perform a desk job (and will therefore deny his claim for disability). “Joe” failed to mention that in order to control the pain that he experiences day in and day out, he takes Morphine five times a day. As a result of the medication, his cognitive abilities are also impaired. If “Joe” would have included that one of his duties as a construction superintendent was to estimate the costs of a project, then the evaluator would have known without a doubt that because of the medicine prescribed that “Joe” would also have problems with completing certain tasks that involve concentration, etc.

As an attorney, I understand that the forms required by the SSA are often tedious. However, I cannot stress enough the importance of taking the time needed in order to give complete responses to the questions asked in these forms. Also, you may want to consider asking family members or friends to help you in obtaining and recording the information necessary to answer each question completely.

In regards to your question, concerning work history inquiries, whether a claimant is able to return to their past work is a key factor in determining whether an individual is awarded benefits or not. If it is determined that the individual, due to their impairment, is unable to return to their previous work, the person evaluating the case will then consider whether the claimant can perform any other work. Applicants often question what the word other means. In essence, it means what it says. Suppose in your case you were no longer able to perform your job as a teacher, the SSA would then consider whether you could do any other type of work. Sadly, in terms of ‘other’ work, it does not have to be in an area that you have experience in or went to school for. For example, if it was determined that you could sit and complete an office type job making only minimum wage, then your application would be denied. For this reason alone, it is important that your medical records are comprehensive and clearly state both your physical and mental limitations. Some of the things they consider in determining whether an applicant can do ‘other’ work are questions like: “How much can you lift?” and “How long can you sit or stand?”

As multiple sclerosis is a progressive disease with no known cure, I recommend that you consult with a disability attorney as soon as possible. He or she will be able to advise you on what is needed in order that you application is approved in the least amount of time.

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March is a month for many things.  The beginning of spring, daylight savings time, and St. Patrick’s Day are just a few of the events that occur this month.  March has also been designated as National Multiple Sclerosis Education and Awareness Month.  The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation has chosen the theme for this year’s awareness drive as “Ready, Set, Shine!”  This theme was chosen as a way to recognize those living with multiple sclerosis for their ability to not only prepare themselves for living with the debilitating disorder, but also for their desire to live productive and active lives.  The goal of the awareness month is to encourage multiple sclerosis sufferers to feel good about themselves and “keep shining.”  It is also a way to provide information to those who do not know much about the disease, as well as to educate people about the advances in treatment and prevention.

This year the Foundation is offering various educational programs across the country, while local multiple sclerosis chapters are hosting their own walks for awareness and education symposiums on the disease.  Many of the events offer the capability of attending via teleconference due to many individuals being unable to move well because of the condition.  These are also great opportunities for people living with multiple sclerosis to connect with others who may share some of the same struggles and victories.  They can ask questions that they may be reticent to speak with the doctor about and find out about new treatments and how they have worked for different people.  The Foundation has listed some of the locations and dates of the educational seminars that it is offering across the country.  You can access this information by visiting http://www.msfacts.org/news-details.aspx?newsID=49 .

The first official Multiple Sclerosis Awareness month was held in March 2002 and has since grown in size, spreading to various affiliated groups across the country.  The Foundation provides kits for spreading awareness locally, as well as access to educational materials.  Events like this are important because it encourages people living with the disease become their own best personal advocates, while also educating the public at large about the symptoms, treatment options, and resources available about multiple sclerosis.  So, if you or someone you know has been impacted by the disease, I encourage you take part in one of the Foundation’s many events or perhaps one that is closer to home.

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Leave it to California to lead the charge in yet another controversial topic.  The use of marijuana to combat the side effect of many diseases and illnesses has long been debated in legislatures, ballot boxes, and around the water cooler.  Now, a clinical study, conducted at the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, is showing evidentiary support for the use of pot for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.  Specifically, these trials, the first of their kind in almost two decades, confirm that marijuana is effective in reducing muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis and pain from other neurological injuries or illnesses.

The study examined marijuana’s effectiveness by randomly providing volunteers with real marijuana or placebos.  The researchers’ goal was to see if cannabis provided relief that was not currently available in traditional drug therapies.  In each of the five state-funded studies, the researchers found that those volunteers using the marijuana reported vast improvements in muscle spasms and pain.  The research team concluded that the herb could be a good primary or secondary treatment for multiple sclerosis or other chronic, painful illnesses.  The same center has researched whether marijuana was helpful in reducing spasms and pain associated with spinal cord injuries and AIDS, as well as its effects on sleeping, driving, diabetes’ symptoms, and whether vaporized pot is as effective as smoking the substance.  Further, the research center has been studying marijuana since the state established it in 2000 to see if its therapeutic benefits could be shored up by science.

Although California and thirteen other states have approved laws for the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, California is the only one that has sponsored research on the herb’s therapeutic effects.  This study, however, may change the outlook for other states and the Federal Government.  So far, the Federal Government does not support the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, but does produce the only pot legally available for scientific research.  The researchers found that this pot was helpful in its studies because it showed that quality, less potent marijuana was just as effective at pain management as more powerful types, but without some of the poor side effects.  The researchers note that more research will be needed and different strains of marijuana will need to be tested to determine effectiveness and long term side effects.  This scientific study, however, goes a long way in proving that the herb just might have a place in standard pain management.

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Multiple Sclerosis disability and you

Multiple Sclerosis or MS is a debilitating autoimmune disease which negatively affects the brain and the central nervous or spinal cord. The disease affects more females than males and typically begins between 20 and 40 years of age. MS results when the protective covering of the nerve cells (myelin sheath) are damaged resulting in nerve impulses being slowed down or even stopped.

Not only does the condition disable the individual suffering with it, there are other aspects to consider if you file for SSDI or SSI benefits based on your MS disability. Disabilities also arise due to other circumstances associated with Multiple Sclerosis such as disabling side effects of the medication you are taking or gradually increasing visual function. In any event, hiring a disability attorney to help through the entire process may provide you with a better opportunity to receive your benefits rather than attempting to do it all on your own.

Associated conditions of MS

In addition to the motor and visual impairments that arise when you have an MS disability case, there are other medical conditions that may or may not be associated with your condition. In most instances, there are 7 areas where certain additional symptoms may arise as your condition progresses:

  • Bowel and bladder
  • Eye and visual
  • Musculature
  • Numbness, pain, and tingling in the extremities
  • Other brain and nerve disorders
  • Sexual impairments
  • Speech and swallowing

Additionally, a variety of emotional and mental conditions may arise as a result of your MS disability besides the physical ones. It is not uncommon for depression to set in as a result of having Multiple Sclerosis.

There are also a few other conditions that may be associated with MS although this is only speculative. Some of these conditions include:

  • Asthma or other respiratory conditions
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Co-occurrence of autoimmune thyroid disease
  • IBD or Inflammatory Bowel Disease (linked to a greater risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis)
  • Melanoma
  • Type 1 diabetes

We’re here to help you win your MS Disability case

Eventually being awarded SSDI or SSI benefits for your Multiple Sclerosis disability case can take a great deal of time. The application process alone, from the time you file until you receive an approval or denial letter can take roughly 3 months. If you’re denied benefits, then you enter the appeals process which can take literally years. You can readily see the importance of having a disability lawyer presenting your case and fighting to get you the benefits you need and deserve.

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The main issue in your Multiple Sclerosis disability case is whether or not you are able to work.  Although you have to identify a medical reason for your inability to work – in your case, MS -  you will not win if you focus on the details of that medical condition.  Instead, your focus must be the specific ways in which your ability to function has been limited by your Multiple Sclerosis.

Are Your Medical Records Sufficient?

In many multiple sclerosis disability cases, we we see handwritten notes from either a primary care physician or a neurologist.  The good new about this is that most MS patients have a consistent history of regular visits to a doctor, as well as  a solid professional relationship with that doctor.

In each office note, your doctor may write down how you reported feeling, his/her impressions as to the intensity of symptoms, the onset of new symptoms, and your state of mind.  Your doctor also may note what medications you are taking, how well they seem to be working, whether there are side effects, and whether he/she intends to refer you to a specialist for more tests.

What is missing here?  These notes are perfectly good as documentation of your illness and your MS treatment.  However, they may not help you in your Social Security case.

Social Security, remember, focuses on work activity limitations.  Often, there is nothing in these records about how much you can lift, how much you can carry, or how long you can sit.  There is also no analysis of your pain in terms of the extent to which your pain interferes with concentration, or causes irritability that might cause tension with co-workers.  If your treating physician is not a specialist, he or she may not note in detail some of the symptoms experienced by MS patients – such as visual problems, breathing problems, or depression. More on How to Win a Multiple Sclerosis Social Security Disability Case

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