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Oxygen and multiple sclerosis.

Evaluating a treatment for a disease that progresses at different speeds in different people can be extremely difficult, and such has been the case for hyperbaric oxygen in the treatment of multiple sclerosis (SN: 2/26/83, p. 142). In hyperbaric oxygen therapy, patients sit in a decompression chamber and breathe high concentrations of oxygen at high pressure. The therapy (developed for treating "the bends") was initially proposed for multiple sclerosis because there is a growing belief that MS is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the nerve sheathes, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy is thought to suppress the immune system.

However, at the American Academy of Neurology meeting this month in Dallas, Gerald E. Slater and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis reported that hyperbaric oxygen therapy did no better than a placebo. Thirty-eight MS patients were given 100 percent oxygen at two atmospheres of pressure 20 times for an hour and a half at a time; 19 patients sat in the same chamber but received no therapy.

The researchers found dramatic improvements in some patients, but when they broke the code and looked at who was receiving therapy, they found that just as many people in the placebo group as in the control group had improved. One possibility, Slater suggests, is that both groups had to make the effort to get to the hospital--they were all getting more exercise.

The therapy also got poor marks several months ago from Newcastle upon Tyne neurologists. In the Feb. 9 LANCET, they reported that in a comparison of 60 patients receiving therapy to 57 in the placebo group, they were able to find improvement only in bowel and bladder function.

But it's not the death knell for hyperbaric oxygen. Boguslav H. Fischer of New York University, who is also evaluating the therapy, says he thinks it is valuable for early cases and acute flare-ups, which Slater and his colleagues were unable to evaluate because they did not have enough patients in this group.
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Publication:Science News
Date:May 25, 1985
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