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Society-Funded Researchers Find Evidence of Health Issues Up to Five Years Before First Symptom of MS

July 16, 2018

  • Researchers from four Canadian provinces found that people with MS went to the doctor or hospital for specific complaints significantly more often than the general population during the five years leading up to their first symptom of MS
  • This study is the first to begin to map out what doctors call the “prodrome” of MS – early signs or symptoms that lead up to an MS diagnosis – and suggests that underlying activity may be underway much earlier than when the first recognized MS symptom occurs.
  • This line of research may help identify new avenues for understanding what causes MS, and lead to ways to identify and treat MS much earlier. 
  • The team, led by Dr. Helen Tremlett (University of British Columbia), was supported by a research grant from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Findings were published early online on July 16, 2018 in Multiple Sclerosis Journal.
 
DETAILS
Background: Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disease that can impact the function of many different parts of the body. Its diagnosis is complex, and there are no symptoms, physical findings or laboratory tests that can, by themselves, determine if a person has MS. Accumulating evidence suggests that there may be non-specific symptoms that occur before a person develops symptoms such as numbness, temporary blindness or tingling that are  recognized as symptoms of MS. Finding a way to better recognize non-traditional symptoms that lead up to a diagnosis of MS – called the “prodrome” – may provide important insights into the origins of the disease and may speed its diagnosis.
 
The Study: Researchers from four Canadian provinces, led by Dr. Helen Tremlett (University of British Columbia) received funding from the National MS Society to study administrative health and clinical data to search for evidence of health issues in people later diagnosed with MS, compared to records from people who had other conditions or were not known to have health issues. They looked at hospital and physician visits and drug prescriptions in a five-year period leading up to the first recognized neurological symptom or sign of MS. The search included over 17,000 people diagnosed with MS and over 80,000 matched controls.
 
They found that people with MS were significantly more likely to have gone to doctors or hospitals for nervous system conditions, skeletal/muscular complaints, sensory issues, undefined or vague symptoms and mental health disorders. Compared to controls, they were more likely to consult neurologists, physiatrists, urologists, and they were more likely to be prescribed drugs. They were less likely to go to the doctor for pregnancy and childbirth-related issues.
 
The team, led by Dr. Helen Tremlett (University of British Columbia), was supported by a research grant from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Findings were published early online on July 16, 2018 in Multiple Sclerosis Journal.
 
Conclusions: This is the first significant study that begins to map out the constellation of health issues and symptoms that may occur before the classic signs and symptoms of MS, providing additional evidence that underlying disease activity may be underway much earlier than when the first typical MS symptom occurs. This line of research may help identify new avenues for understanding what causes MS, and lead to ways to identify and treat MS much earlier. 
 
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Symptoms and Diagnosis of MS

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. 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. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

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