Study: A group of symptoms precedes first definitive signs of MS

July 18, 2018
During the five years before people develop the first clinically recognized signs of multiple sclerosis, they are up to four times more likely to be treated for nervous system disorders such as pain or sleep problems, and are 50 percent more likely to visit a psychiatrist, according to new research from the University of British Columbia.

The study could enable physicians to diagnose the disease and start treating it earlier, therefore possibly slowing the damage it causes to the brain and spinal cord. The researchers examined health records of 14,000 people with MS from British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia between 1984 and 2014 and compared them to the health records of 67,000 people without the disease.

They found that fibromyalgia, a condition involving widespread musculoskeletal pain, was more than three times as common in people who were later diagnosed with MS, and irritable bowel syndrome was almost twice as common. Two other conditions with markedly higher rates among people to be diagnosed with MS were migraine headaches and any mood or anxiety disorder, which includes depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

The higher rates of those illnesses also corresponds with higher use of medications for musculoskeletal disorders, nervous system disorders, and disorders of the genito-urinary tract, along with antidepressants and antibiotics.

The researchers say their findings provide definitive evidence that MS can be preceded by early symptoms – known as a prodrome – that aren't considered "classic" manifestations of the disease, such as blurred vision, or numbness or weakness in the limbs. As recently as 2000, medical textbooks asserted that MS did not have a prodrome.

The study was published in Multiple Sclerosis Journal.

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