Eye scans that check for thinness of the retina may help predict the progression of multiple sclerosis, says a new study.

"This study suggests that retinal thinning, measured by in-office eye scans, called OCT, may occur at higher rates in people with earlier and more active MS," said Robert Bermel, MD, with the Cleveland Clinic Mellen Center for MS. Bermel wrote an accompanying editorial in the journal Neurology.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects brain and spinal cord. The immune system of the body attacks the protective sheath covering the nerve cells. These damaged cells do not transfer signals properly causing functional disability. Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects women more than men. According to estimates 250,000 to 350,000 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with MS.

164 people with MS participated in the present study, including 59 who had no disease activity. All participants underwent eye scans that measured thinning of a portion of their retinas every six months for about 21 months. MRI brain scans of the study participants were taken before the study.

Study results showed that people who had suffered from MS relapse had 42 percent faster thinning of retinas than people who didn't have MS relapses. Retinal thinning was also faster in people who had "gadolinium-enhancing lesions" (inflammatory lesions or T2 lesions. These lesions were detected with the help of MRI scans.

Also, people who experienced worsening disability during the study period had 37 percent more thinning in the retina than people who had no such disability.

"As more therapies are developed to slow the progression of MS, testing retinal thinning in the eyes may be helpful in evaluating how effective those therapies are," said study author Peter Calabresi, MD, with Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.