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Notable Firsts in the History of MS

By Matt Cavallo
Multiple Sclerosis is the most common neurological disorder with more than 2.8 million patients worldwide. While I have a family history of MS with my aunt, I realized recently that I knew very little about the history of MS. Have you ever wondered about the history of MS? If you have, I dug deep and researched some of the timeline events to bring you some notable firsts that shaped the history of MS.

First documented case of MS

Lidwina (1380-1433) was a Dutch mystic and one of the first documented cases of MS more than 600 years ago. She suffered an injury while ice skating and then became progressively disabled with MS-like symptoms including paralysis, becoming nearly blind, and having her face twitch in pain. She became known as a healer and a holy woman. When she died in 1433, she became the patron saint of ice skating and her burial site is a place of Catholic pilgrimage.

First definitive case of MS

Augustus d'Este (Jan. 13, 1794 – Dec. 28, 1848) is the first person where a definite diagnosis of MS can be made. August kept a diary, recording his illness. His first symptom was described as vision loss at 28 years old, which is consistent with optic neuritis. He then developed weakness of the legs which eventually led to him needing a wheelchair. He suffered from numbness, dizziness, and bladder problems, all MS-like symptoms. He spent his last years confined to bed, but always maintained a positive attitude despite his challenges with MS.

First MS image

Sir Robert Carswell (1793–1857) was a Scottish professor of pathology and a talented artist. He drew brilliant watercolors of organs in different disease states. One of his most famous drawings was a spinal cord with discolored plaques, which he referred to as a “peculiar disease state.” It is assumed that the plaques are the first images of MS.

First to name MS

Jean-Martin Charcot (Nov. 29, 1825 – Aug. 16, 1893) was a French neurologist and professor, who is also known as the founder of modern neurology. Through his research, he found several traits that were a similar disease pathology. Those traits were tremors, involuntary eye movement, and speech issues. He named the disease, “sclérose en plaques” in French, which is translated to multiple sclerosis in English.

First diagnostic tool invented

Heinrich Irenaeus Quincke (August 26, 1842 – May 19, 1922) was German surgeon who developed the lumbar puncture (spinal tap). Heinrich developed it for a patient with meningitis. The lumbar puncture went on to become one of the primary ways to diagnosis MS (as many of us reading the article are well aware of). 

First MS diet

Dr. Roy Laver Swank (1909–2008) was a neurologist at the University of Oregon. Dr. Swank was an advocate for the connection between diet and MS and published his Swank Diet in 1949. The diet is low in saturated fats and allows no processed food of any kind. As an aside, I first learned of the Swank diet when I was diagnosed with MS. My mother found it and suggested I look into it. While I wasn’t open to it at the time, I am certainly taking my diet more seriously now, more than fifteen years later.

First MS relapse treatment

Adrenocorticotropic hormone was approved in 1978 by the FDA to treat MS exacerbations. 

First disease-modifying treatment

Betaseron became the first treatment approved for patients living with relapsing-remitting forms of MS in 1993. 

These are just some of the firsts in the history of MS. There has been a rich history of dedicated researchers, doctors and patients blazing the way for the advancements in MS today. So, while the world has known about MS for more than 600 years, there have been major breakthroughs in the past 15 years that will shape the future of MS.