Brain scans of people with early signs of multiple sclerosis can predict the long-term prognosis of the disease.
A 15-year study of people diagnosed with clinically isolated syndrome (CIS), an early indicator of potential multiple sclerosis (MS), suggests MRI technology can predict future disability.
Neurology experts at University College London followed 164 people over 15 years. They found the MRI scans taken when participants were first diagnosed displayed signs of future disease progression. Early spinal cord damage indicated people were much more likely to go on to develop the secondary progressive form of MS, which currently has no treatment.
The team also found an association between lesions seen in the brain at the time of CIS, and a person's physical and cognitive performance later in life.
Dr Wallace Brownlee, from the UCL Institute of Neurology, which carried out the research, said it showed that standard MRIs could help those newly diagnosed with MS make better-informed choices about treatment.
"The way we treat MS right now is we put people on treatment and consider escalating or trying a more intensive treatment if it's not working. But with this, we might be able to identify people at the beginning which might mean a more effective treatment at the outset."
Over 100,000 people live with MS in the UK, and one of the most difficult things about being diagnosed is the uncertainty of the condition. The course MS takes is highly variable with significant differences in terms of how quickly it progresses, how disabled a person may become and how cognitive performance is affected.
Dr Susan Kohlhaas, director of research at the MS Society, said: "For someone newly diagnosed, who gets a list of 14 treatments, who has no information about how their MS might develop, it's really complicated. By identifying key factors that appear very early on and indicate how someone's MS might develop, this study has proved crucial."