Early signs before 'classic' symptoms of multiple sclerosis could help diagnosis

Multiple sclerosis victims may suffer from various health conditions up to five years before the disease is diagnosed, according to new research. — ktsimage/Istock.com pic via AFP
Multiple sclerosis victims may suffer from various health conditions up to five years before the disease is diagnosed, according to new research. — ktsimage/Istock.com pic via AFP

VANCOUVER, July 17 — New Canadian research has found that health problems such as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and migraines are more likely to occur in those who are later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Carried out by researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC), the study is the largest-ever to record the symptoms of people before they know they have MS, looking at the health records of 14,000 people with MSs between 1984 and 2014 and comparing them to the health records of 67,000 people without the disease.

The team found definitive evidence that MS can be preceded by early symptoms, known as a prodrome, with the results showing that during the five years before people develop the first clinically recognised signs of multiple sclerosis (MS), which often include “classic” symptoms such as blurred vision or numbness or weakness in the limbs, they are also more likely to show symptoms of various other conditions.

More specifically, they are up to four times more likely to be treated for nervous system disorders such as pain or sleep problems, more likely to have any mood or anxiety disorder including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder and 50 per cent more likely to visit a psychiatrist, and more likely to suffer from migraine headaches.

Fibromyalgia is also more than three times as common, a condition involving widespread musculoskeletal pain, and patients are more than twice as likely to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome.

In addition, in line with the higher rates of these various illnesses the team also found a higher use of medications for musculoskeletal disorders, nervous system disorders, and disorders of the genito-urinary tract, along with antidepressants and antibiotics, among those who later received a diagnosis of MS.

The findings could now enable physicians to diagnose the disease earlier, and therefore start treating it earlier, which could possibly slow disease progression and damage to the brain and spinal cord.

Until as recently as 2000, medical textbooks said that MS did not have a prodrome, with lead author Helen Tremlett commenting that:

“The existence of such 'warning signs' are well-accepted for Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, but there has been little investigation into a similar pattern for MS. We now need to delve deeper into this phenomenon, perhaps using data-mining techniques. We want to see if there are discernible patterns related to sex, age, or the 'type' of MS they eventually develop.”

MS is caused by the body's own immune system attacking myelin, the fatty material that insulates neurons, causing communication between the brain and other parts of the body to be disrupted and leading to vision problems, muscle weakness, difficulty with balance and coordination, and cognitive impairments.

The results can be found published online in Multiple Sclerosis Journal. — AFP-Relaxnews

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