Trevor Bayne's announcement that he will continue to participate in NASCAR races despite his multiple sclerosis diagnosis has the MS community applauding him, but wondering whether he'll face safety hurdles -- particularly when it comes to heat.
Doctors wonder whether sitting in the cockpit of a race car, known for being extremely hot, will trigger Bayne's symptoms as part of what's known as the Uhthoff's phenomenon, in which a patient's symptoms worsen when they become overheated and dissipate once they cool down.
"He talked about double vision, and his double vision can get worse if he's overheated," said Dr. Harold Moses, a neurologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. "These cars get very warm, and a lot of these drivers wear cooling suits. I think they're going to be very careful about how he re-enters the sport."
Bayne, 22, became the youngest driver to win the Daytona 500 in 2011. He publically announced on Tuesday that he was diagnosed with MS, but the symptoms began in 2011 with double vision, fatigue and nausea. He said he visited the Mayo Clinic because the symptoms were affecting his driving.
MS can manifest differently from person to person, but it is a disease in which the immune system attacks myelin, the protective covering of nerves, hindering communication between the brain and the nerves and causing an array of symptoms.
Some patients can live their whole lives with MS, and doctors will never know they had it until the autopsy, said Dr. Michael Devereaux, a neurologist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. Other patients can die six weeks after they're diagnosed with it.
People with MS will typically have attacks in which they' experience vision loss or numbness -- depending on the affected area of the brain -- but then those symptoms will subside, said Dr. Christopher Bever, a neurologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center and fellow at the American Academy of Neurology. But the attacks aren't sudden. Patients can typically feel them coming on slowly over a period of about 24 hours.
"The issue with MS is that it typically early on is a relapsing and remitting disease," said Bever, adding that he has patients who are able to do physically demanding jobs without a problem. "The main challenge for patients is that they have to be aware of what's going on with them. If they do develop impairments, they have to recognize that and have to cut back on what they're doing so that they're safe."
In Uhthoff's phenomenon, damage from a patient's previous attacks will trigger old symptoms to come back until the patient cools off, he said.
Moses said Bayne's announcement is uplifting to many MS patients because he is continuing to live out his dream despite the diagnosis. "I think people will look to [Bayne] hopefully as a source of inspiration," Moses said, adding that Kelly Sutton, who also has MS, has competed in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
"Obviously Trevor wants to be successful," she said. "We're very excited about him coming forward and helping to build awareness and continuing to pursue his dreams."