Multiple sclerosis patients forced to quit vital medication due to the intolerable stomach trouble it causes are to be offered a new breed of pills designed to reduce severe reactions.
The medication, taken twice a day, works just as well as previous drugs that have revolutionised treatment of the autoimmune condition – known collectively as disease-modifying therapies – but without the uncomfortable side effects that many suffer.
Now, following authorisation from Britain’s medicines watchdog, doctors hope the pill, diroximel fumarate – brand name Vumerity – could provide more sufferers the opportunity to control their condition.
Dr Martin Duddy, a consultant neurologist who treats MS patients at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Newcastle, says: ‘Disease-modifying therapies can really improve quality of life, but they often come with the trade off of some really uncomfortable stomach issues.
‘For many patients it can just be too much. Any new options which would allow them to continue on the therapies would be welcomed.’
More than 130,000 people in the UK suffer from multiple sclerosis, an incurable disease which develops when the immune system goes haywire, attacking the myelin sheath, the protective coating on brain and spinal-cord nerves.
One patient who could benefit from the treatment is Harriet Betts (pictured), 33, from Southampton who was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS four years ago after she suffered partial vision loss
What’s the difference between strep throat and tonsillitis?
Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils, which are at the back of the throat.
It is a common childhood illness, but adults and teenagers can get it too. Tonsillitis causes the tonsils to become red and swollen and can be accompanied with flu-like symptoms.
It can be triggered by a viral infection, in which case painkillers and rest are the best treatment, but it can also be caused by a bacterial infection, in which case antibiotics might be given if it doesn’t resolve.
Strep throat is a bacterial infection that leaves the throat feeling very sore and scratchy, and always requires antibiotic treatment.
If left untreated it can cause complications such as kidney inflammation and rheumatic fever, as well as painful inflammation of the joints.
If a sore throat lasts longer than 48 hours and is accompanied by a large rash that covers most of the body (known as scarlet fever), then sufferers should contact their doctor.
This leads to symptoms such as poor mobility and numbness in the limbs, as well as mental health problems.
About 85 per cent of patients have relapsing-remitting MS and can go months without symptoms, but suddenly fall ill.
During relapses, the symptoms can be so severe they find it near-impossible to carry out everyday tasks.
In the past 20 years, drugs have become available that can reduce the number of relapses.
These disease-modifying therapies, such as one called Tecfidera, routinely used on the NHS, can cut relapses by about 50 per cent, according to studies.
However, side effects are common, with many patients experiencing stomach cramps, diarrhoea and nausea.
Dr Duddy said: ‘If patients come off Tecfidera or other disease-modifying therapies, they will usually have to go on to less effective drugs, meaning more relapses, or stronger medication which carries a larger risk of complications.’
Vumerity contains the same active ingredient as Tecfidera to reduce inflammation and protect the nerve cells from the damage that causes MS symptoms.
But the new drug has a different chemical structure, which means it’s better tolerated by patients.
US studies have found that patients on Vumerity see a similar reduction in relapses to those on Tecfidera, but develop significantly fewer stomach problems.
Dr Duddy said: ‘It appears that patients on Vumerity typically live more comfortable lives.
‘They’re obviously not completely side-effect free – no drug is – but it appears that the stomach issues it causes are much easier to tolerate.
‘That’s not to say everyone should come off Tecfidera, but it would be a valuable option for MS patients being treated on the NHS.’
Vumerity received authorisation for use in the UK by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency last month.
A decision on its use from NHS watchdog the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is pending.
One patient who could benefit from the treatment is Harriet Betts, 33, from Southampton who was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS four years ago after she suffered partial vision loss.
Harriet, who works in a sun-bed shop, was put on Tecfidera, which led to a number of severe side effects, including painful, sun-burn-like skin flushing and constipation.
US studies have found that patients on Vumerity see a similar reduction in relapses to those on Tecfidera, but develop significantly fewer stomach problems
The mother-of-four was moved on to another disease-modifying therapy, but now has to go into hospital every six months for an infusion and is then required to rest in bed for several days to avoid any complications.
She says a new treatment that could reduce side effects caused by disease-modifying therapies would help her and others.
She adds: ‘All these drugs have horrid side effects.
‘It’s something you learn to live with because you’re hoping it’ll help your MS.
‘The thought that patients like myself could get something that doesn’t make you feel sick all the time is really positive.’
Intimate touch that makes women sad
Some women experience sudden feelings of sadness and despair when their nipples are touched.
The rare condition, sad nipple syndrome, was thought to be connected to another condition, called dysphoric milk ejection reflex, where women who breastfeed develop negative emotions just before milk is released. However, recent reports suggest that it can also happen to women who have never breastfed.
Consultant dermatologist Dr Sreedhar Krishna says when the nipple is stimulated, the feelings of sadness may be triggered by a drop in the pleasure chemical dopamine.