Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and Multiple Sclerosis

by Rashmi Gulati, MD
Rashmi Gulati Head Shot

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder that affects the ability of nerve cells to properly transmit signals. Nerves are surrounded by sheaths of myelin, which act as insulation, ensuring that the signal reaches its destination. In multiple sclerosis, the immune system attacks the myelin, damaging it irreparably. A variety of neurological problems can result, ultimately causing problems with balance, coordination, vision, speech, and cognition.

While hyperbaric oxygen therapy is unlikely to cure multiple sclerosis, it has been used in conjunction with other treatments to aid in recovery from multiple sclerosis attacks for many years now. Although more research is necessary, hyperbaric oxygen seems to alleviate symptoms and significantly increase periods of remission between attacks.

Before we explain the benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for multiple sclerosis, it must be reiterated that this therapy is not a cure for this condition. Controversy surrounding the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy exists because the effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy have been widely misunderstood. The main aim is to stabilize the patient's condition and improve their quality of life. Many MS people report improvements in their overall symptoms and their functional ability. Patients have reported improvements with their ataxia, numbness in their fingers and hands, balance, visual fields, concentration, pain, weakness, and dizziness. It has been shown that most often improvement can be achieved in bladder–bowel disorders.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatments should be initiated as soon as the condition is diagnosed, and before irreversible lesions have become established. This does not mean that patients whose diagnosis was determined more than five years previously will not benefit, however.

Despite the involvement of patients with advanced disease in trials, the results are very impressive. A combination of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, other therapeutic agents, and diet can help ensure a positive outcome. The addition of antibiotics has been shown to be beneficial in some patients. A university in the United States has announced that the use of minocycline or doxycycline helps to slow the progression of the disease process for years.

Oxygen is essential to all tissues in the body and especially to injured tissues, which require oxygen to support and improve the healing process. It has been shown that there may be a severe lack of oxygen in the affected areas during an MS "flare," so that when oxygen is needed most to reduce swelling and help prevent scarring or plaque formation, it cannot reach the tissue in sufficient quantity. With the help of extra oxygen, the body's ability to heal and limit some of the damage that the disease causes is possible. Under hyperbaric oxygen conditions, breathing 100% oxygen causes vasoconstriction, inducing the dilated leaky blood vessels in MS to constrict back to normal size, and reduces the swelling due to fluid gathering which can lead to cell death. Drugs can also cause vasoconstriction, but reduce the available amount of oxygen the tissues receive when blood flow is reduced. Oxygen is the safest "drug" available when administered by trained professionals.

Of all the current therapies presumably based on an understanding of the etiology and pathophysiology of the disease process, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has the soundest foundation. Based on comparative efficacy and safety considerations, it is recommended that HBOT be used for treating early MS and treating MS-associated cerebellar and bowel–bladder dysfunction.

Patients Medical makes no claims as to hyperbaric oxygen therapy efficacy for any condition other than the indications approved by the FDA. Information within this site is provided for informational and educational purposes only. This information is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your personal physician or any other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.

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