Study Uncovers New Early Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
Visual disturbances, sensory disturbances, symptoms of paralysis – multiple sclerosis can manifest itself with a number of different symptoms. But long before the motor and sensory complaints, other surprising symptoms can apparently occur. This is what Canadian researchers found out. FITBOOK medicine editor Melanie Hoffmann explains the findings of the study.
In Germany alone, more than 280,000 people suffer from MS.1 Multiple sclerosis is initially accompanied by subtle and diffuse symptoms, e.g. B. Tingling in the hands and feet or a short-term numbness. In addition, the disease progresses in episodes, meaning there can be long phases without symptoms. Making a diagnosis is therefore often difficult and a lengthy process. Canadian researchers have now identified new early symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS), which could help to better understand the onset of the inflammatory disease of the nervous system. The surprising thing is that these are not functional disorders that manifest themselves in motor terms.
The Challenges of Making a Diagnosis
A research team from the University of British Columbia led by Dr. Helen Tremlett, professor of neurology, is working to gain a better understanding of the early stages of the autoimmune disorder. Because early MS symptoms are similar to those of many other diseases, sufferers often endure a long road of doctor visits and medical tests before they finally know what they are suffering from.
Studies should help shorten this path. “If we can detect MS earlier, treatment could start earlier. This has enormous potential to slow the progression of the disease and improve the quality of life of those affected,” explained Dr. Tremlett in a university statement about the study.2
Multiple Sclerosis and Psychological Problems
Illnesses, especially those with severe or chronic courses, can of course also have an impact on the psyche of patients. This is no different with multiple sclerosis. It is known that MS sufferers struggle with both mood swings and anxiety disorders. About half of them experience depressive episodes during the course of their MS disease.3
But are psychological complaints always just the result of a long-term illness? So will they e.g. B. caused by the impairments in everyday life due to the symptoms of the disease, due to the symptoms themselves or due to the difficulty in accepting the diagnosis? Or, on the contrary, could they be linked to MS earlier and in a different way – i.e. be early symptoms of multiple sclerosis? The current study from Canada provides exciting insights into this.
Procedure of the Study
In their study, researchers analyzed data from 6,863 MS patients from British Columbia. She was interested in the extent to which patients were already suffering from psychological complaints up to five years before the first classic, medically recognized signs of MS appeared.4
The scientists looked more closely at the presence of the following mental illnesses:
– Visits to the doctor due to psychiatric symptoms, visits to psychiatrists, psychiatric-related admissions to clinics, administration of psychotropic drugs
For comparison, they used data from 31,865 control subjects without multiple sclerosis.
Early MS Symptoms Also Affect the Psyche
In fact, the research team was able to show that MS patients often suffer from psychological problems long before their MS diagnosis. In the five-year period examined before the first classic symptoms of multiple sclerosis appeared, 28 percent of the MS patients who were part of the study had a psychiatric illness. Among the subjects without MS, it was only 14.9 percent.
The analysis also showed that mental illnesses became more frequent or worse as the time between the onset of MS became shorter – as measured by the subjects’ doctor visits, psychiatrist appointments, hospital admissions, and prescribed medications.
Five years before the first classic MS symptoms appeared, the number of doctor visits among later MS patients was 78 percent higher than among those not affected by multiple sclerosis. In the last year before MS, they were 124 percent higher.
Something similar emerged when visiting psychiatrists:
– Increased by 132 percent five years before MS.
– Increased by 146 percent in the last year before MS
Regarding hospital admissions:
– Increased by 129 percent five years before MS.
– Increased by 197 percent in the last year before MS
And also when prescribing medication:
– Increased by 72 percent five years before MS.
– Increased by 100 percent in the last year before MS
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Psychological Complaints as a Possible Indicator of Later MS Disease
The Canadian study once again shows the complexity of multiple sclerosis and the need to look at the body as a whole. This apparently also includes the psyche – and not just after an illness has broken out. On the contrary, psychological complaints could be possible early symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
Of course, depression or anxiety can have many other causes and do not necessarily have to be linked to MS. The current study was only able to show an increased occurrence of corresponding diseases in those later affected by multiple sclerosis, but could not prove a causal connection. She couldn’t even rule out the possibility that other factors played a role in the mental illness.
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