Study suggests microbleeds, MS disability link

June 20, 2016

A new study suggests that leaky blood vessels in the brain, called cerebral microbleeds, are linked to increased physical and cognitive disability in patients with multiple sclerosis. The study is among the first to examine what cerebral microbleeds may mean for clinical outcomes in MS.

Cerebral microbleeds, which become more common with age and are a known risk factor for dementia, also have been associated with traumatic brain injury, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Researchers at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo decided to study cerebral microbleeds and MS because they saw significant overlap in the risk factors for each condition.

The study included 445 patients with MS, 45 with clinically isolated syndrome, 51 patients with other neurological diseases, and 177 healthy controls. All study participants underwent a type of magnetic resonance imaging called susceptibility-weighted imaging that is specifically targeted to better image blood products.

The researchers found that the more cerebral microbleeds a patient had, the more severe were their physical and cognitive outcomes. In particular, MS patients who had more cerebral microbleeds had more physical disability after adjusting for age, hypertension and whole-brain volume. In terms of cognitive disability, the researchers found that in the subgroup of MS patients who underwent neuropsychological testing, those with more cerebral microbleeds had higher disability on verbal and other cognitive function tests. Among subjects under the age of 50, 14 percent of patients with clinically isolated syndrome had microbleeds versus just 3 percent of healthy controls.

The UB researchers are conducting a longitudinal, five-year study of these patients focused on the relationship between cerebral microbleeds, advances in magnetic resonance imaging and clinical outcomes.

The study was published in the journal Radiology.

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