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Large Study Suggests that Psychiatric Conditions May Provide Early Hints to a Future MS Diagnosis

September 25, 2023

Depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric conditions occurred significantly more in a very large population of people in British Columbia, Canada who would go on to develop MS compared to people who did not develop MS. This finding is from a new study from Canadian researchers co-funded by the National MS Society.
Increased research on the earliest stages of MS may enable earlier treatment to stop or even prevent MS, which are among goals of the Pathways to Cures Roadmap.
Background: There is growing recognition that MS has a “prodrome,” an early phase of unspecific symptoms indicating a high risk for future onset and diagnosis of MS. Further work to map out the prodrome may enable opportunities to intervene and prevent the development of full-blown MS. This team previously reported increased use of health care before onset of MS.
This Study: In the current study, a team of Canadian researchers led by Dr. Helen Tremlett (University of British Columbia) with postdoctoral fellow Dr. Anibal Chertcoff and others, looked at health claims and clinic visits of thousands of people with MS in British Columbia and compared them to data from thousands of people who did not have MS. They compared the number of physician visits, hospital admissions, and prescriptions for psychiatric conditions like depression and anxiety in each of the 5 years before onset of MS.
Results: The number of individuals who had medical claims, visits, or prescriptions for psychiatric conditions was significantly greater among those who eventually developed MS than in those in the control group in the 5 years before the onset of MS symptoms.
  • This difference increased every year as MS onset approached.
  • But not everyone had evidence of a psychiatric condition before onset of their MS. About a quarter of those who went on to develop MS had a psychiatric condition diagnosed before MS onset, compared to about one-sixth of those in the general population.
Why does this matter? This study indicates that an uptick in mental health changes may be part of the pre-MS “prodrome” for some individuals. Identifying specific signs of the MS prodrome may enable earlier treatment to stop or even prevent MS. It also indicates the importance of mental health care when needed, even early in the course of MS.
Learn More…  
“Psychiatric comorbidity during the prodromal period in patients with multiple sclerosis,” by Anibal Chertcoff, Fardowsa LA Yusuf, Feng Zhu, Charity Evans, John D Fisk, Yinshan Zhao, Ruth Ann Marrie, and Helen Tremlett, was published in Neurology online on September, 25, 2023.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.


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