Every week Brendan Hilton steps into a high-pressure chamber, pulls a mask over his face and breathes in a high dose of oxygen. The 32-year-old, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, has found that the treatment eases symptoms of the incurable disease.
In the UK and Ireland about 5,000 patients regularly have oxygen therapy lasting about an hour in chambers holding up to 12 people.
It uses the same technology as in the pressurised cabins of passenger jets and some research suggests that delivering high doses of pure oxygen can reduce inflammation which is a key feature of MS.
The treatment is offered at more than 60 centres throughout the UK, each run as an individual charity.
"I feel energised and sleep better after having oxygen," says Brendan, a former car mechanic who was diagnosed with the disease seven years ago. He initially noticed that he was suffering from double vision but it took six years for the cause to be established.
"I was playing pool on holiday and couldn't see the balls properly," he explains. "I was also suffering from headaches. It happened again at work about a year later." Tests revealed a swelling on the nerve ending behind the eye. It was treated purely as a vision problem but is one of the first signs of MS.
Brendan adds: "It would flare up occasionally, then my mum pointed out that I was crossing my feet when I was walking. I realised it was due to a weakness in my right hip."
Finally following an MRI scan Brendan was called in urgently by a neurologist and told he had MS, a condition that affects the central nervous system including the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.
"My first reaction was disbelief and I thought they had mixed up my medical records," says Brendan. "I didn't know much about MS and assumed I would end up in a wheelchair but as I learned more, I was determined to get on with life."
Brendan improved his diet, began exercising more and now rarely drinks alcohol. He also heard about the network of more than 60 MS Therapy Centres in the UK. They offer a range of treatments including oxygen therapy.
"I am open-minded and oxygen therapy made a lot of sense," says Brendan. "If you have an accident, oxygen is the first thing they give you. It's not a cure but I've no doubt that it helps."
Some studies suggest the treatment helps ease symptoms such as incontinence, pain and fatigue. However oxygen therapy divides medical opinion and is not available on the NHS for MS.
The use of oxygen to treat MS was introduced in the UK in Dundee in 1982. For reasons that are not clear but may be linked to lifestyle and climate, Scotland has one of the highest rates of MS in the world.
Petra Kliempt, co-ordinator for MS Therapy Centres, says: "Oxygen is the body's antibiotic. It helps against infection and the inflammation caused by MS."
The chambers used at the centres deliver air which is pressurised at twice the normal atmospheric level. This allows high doses of oxygen to reach and repair damaged tissue.
Some studies suggest that over a long period oxygen can slow the effects of MS. It is also claimed that the therapy can stimulate the production of stem cells which may allow some of the damage caused by MS to be repaired. Treatment tends to be more successful if begun soon after diagnosis.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy was first used in 1887 to treat pneumonia and since the 1930s for deep-sea divers suffering from decompression sickness. It has also been used to help treat a range of illnesses and conditions including stroke, diabetes and brain injury.
Other studies have cast doubt on the treatment but Petra adds: "There are clear benefits and no side effects. I have not encountered any MS patients who report no improvement and for some it is dramatic. People have reported that the effects are like having a fog cleared from around their brain.
"However oxygen treatment is not a cure and people need to be realistic. If you are in a wheelchair it's not going to get you walking again. We do believe this treatment should be made available on the NHS but there is a lack of awareness among GPs while others are sceptical about the importance of using oxygen in treatment."
Ed Holloway of the MS Society says: "Some people with MS who receive hyperbaric oxygen therapy have found that it helps to improve their symptoms but others haven't found any benefit. There have been a number of studies looking into its potential benefits but overall they haven't found any clear evidence that it is an effective treatment."
Most patients have an intensive introductory course of 20 hour-long sessions then scale back depending on their symptoms. Anyone having the treatment is asked to make a small donation. There are about 100,000 MS sufferers in the UK so oxygen therapy is still only being used by a fraction. The condition occurs most commonly in people aged between 20 and 40 and twice as many women as men are affected.
Brendan, who has the relapsingremitting form of MS, has oxygen therapy at a centre near his home in Hereford alongside conventional drug treatment. Although he still struggles with his balance due to leg weakness his condition is now more stable and he is able to enjoy hobbies including fishing. Next year he is due to get married to Helen, a supervisor at the centre.
He says: "If I miss a session I really notice the difference. Even with oxygen treatment I still have times when I can't face the world and just have to take it easy.
"However when you have an incurable condition anything that works for you has to be worth it."
Source: The Daily Express Copyright ©2014 Northern and Shell Media Publications (07/01/14)
Actress Alison Peebles has spoken of a huge improvement in her multiple sclerosis after a revolutionary new treatment.
She had been expecting the primary progressive multiple sclerosis that has blighted her life to quickly leave her dependent on the use of a wheelchair.
However, the leading Scottish actress, whose TV credits include BBC's River City and Shetland, believes a new physiotherapy has greatly improved the quality of her life – and delayed the need for a chair.
Peebles, from Wester Hailes, has been receiving treatment from the Korean Physiotherapy Clinic In Edinburgh, where therapist Chongsu Lee uses a technique that involves gentle manipulation of the spine and surrounding soft tissue to release tension.
It is claimed that as tension around the spine gradually eases off, blood and lymph circulation and nerve function improve.
"The benefits of the treatment have been quite dramatic," said Peebles, who has starred as Lady Macbeth on stage. "I was collapsing all the time as I had poor balance and strength. I was mentally and physically exhausted.
"Now, after 18 weeks of treatment, my walking, balance and vision are hugely improved and my body is much more flexible. I still use a crutch, but if I continue like this, I feel optimistic that I can keep on my feet and delay the imminent need for a wheelchair."
Peebles, 53, a co-founder of the Communicado Theatre Company, has suffered from primary progressive MS, which is characterised by a worsening of symptoms, since 2001.
She wrote and performed the 2012 theatre play My Shrinking Life as a response to her disability, and as a reflection on what it means to play a part in which she was unwillingly cast.
The actress and director continues to work. She will direct the play Bite The Bullet , by Sandy Nelson and Keith Warwick, at the Edinburgh Fringe in August. "I am more supple," I am standing straighter, and I have more energy," she added.
Scientists recently reported they may be a step closer to repairing the damage caused by MS.
Researchers at Edinburgh and Cambridge universities have pinpointed a process that helps to produce more myelin – the sheath surrounding the central nervous system.
Scotland has the highest prevalence of MS in the world, with about 10,500 people affected.
Source: heraldscotland © Copyright 2013 Herald & Times Group (29/07/13)
A major Nordic research project involving researchers from the University of Copenhagen has, for the first time ever, mapped the use of alternative treatment among multiple sclerosis patients - knowledge which is important for patients with chronic disease and the way in which society meets them.
People with multiple sclerosis (MS) often use alternative treatments such as dietary supplements, acupuncture and herbal medicine to facilitate their lives with this chronic disease. This is the result of a new study of how MS patients use both conventional and alternative treatments which has been carried out by researchers from five Nordic countries. The results have been published in two scientific journals, the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health and Autoimmune Diseases.
"What we see is that patients do not usually use alternative treatments for treating symptoms, but as a preventative and strengthening element," says Lasse Skovgaard, industrial PhD candidate from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences and the Danish Multiple Sclerosis Society, who has been involved in conducting the questionnaire-based study among 3,800 people with MS in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease which attacks the central nervous system, and which can lead to a loss of mobility and sight.
Denmark is one of the countries with the highest incidence of the disease worldwide, with approx. 12,500 MS patients. At the same time, the number of MS patients in the West is increasing, posing considerable challenges in respect of treatment, prevention and rehabilitation. Access to knowledge bank Together with researchers from the five other Nordic countries, Lasse Skovgaard has spent three years gathering the new data, and he is delighted at what it offers: "Within the field of health research, it is often a question of studying the extent to which a particular type of drug affects a particular symptom. However, it is equally as important to look at how people with a chronic disease, for example, use different treatments to cope with their situation.
Here, MS patients offer valuable experience. Their experiences constitute a knowledge bank which we must access and learn from," he says.
Lasse Skovgaard draws attention to the significance of this new knowledge because, if people with chronic disease are better able to manage their lives, it can potentially save society large sums of money. "There is a lot of talk about 'self-care competence', in other words patients helping themselves to get their lives to function. Here, many people with a chronic disease find they benefit from using alternative treatments, so we should not ignore this possibility," says Lasse Skovgaard. At the same time, he emphasises that knowing more about why patients choose particular treatments is important in relation to improving patient safety because of the possible risks involved in combining conventional and alternative medicine.
Growing use of alternative treatments According to the latest Health and Sickness Study from the Danish National Institute of Public Health (NIPH) in 2010, one in four Danes say that they have tried one or more types of alternative treatments within the past twelve months. Among MS patients, the use of alternative medicine has been growing steadily over the past fifteen years. In the researchers' latest study, more than half of the respondents say that they either combine conventional and alternative medicine or only use alternative medicine. "We cannot ignore the fact that people with chronic disease use alternative treatments to a considerable extent, and that many of them seem to benefit from doing so. It doesn't help to only judge this from a medical point of view or say that alternative treatments are nonsense – rather, we must try to understand it," says Lasse Skovgaard.
Highly qualified women top the list The study shows that, among MS patients using alternative treatments, there is a significantly bigger proportion of people with a high level of education compared to those who do not use alternative treatments. There is also a larger proportion of highly paid people and of younger women. "Some critics are of the opinion that when alternative treatments are so popular, it is because they appeal to naïve people looking for a miraculous cure. But our results indicate that it is primarily the well-educated segment that is subscribing to alternative treatments. And that using alternative treatments is part of a lifestyle choice," says Lasse Skovgaard.
He hopes that the new knowledge will improve communication regarding how the chronically ill use alternative treatments in combination with conventional medicine: "We see that so many people are combining conventional medicine with alternative treatment that it should be taken seriously by the health service. Until now, there hasn't been much focus on the doctor-patient dialogue in relation to the alternative methods used by the chronically ill to manage their lives," says Lasse Skovgaard. He says that the research group is continuing to analyse the results and, among other things, is conducting several interview studies based on the results of the questionnaires. The interview studies will, for example, provide additional knowledge on how patients perceive the risks associated with using alternative medicine and explore why some patients turn their backs completely on conventional medicine.
Source: Medical Xpresss © Medical Xpress 2011-2013 (20/04/13)