Chronic Conditions Common at Diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis

Patients with MS also have higher rates for conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung disease, epilepsy, and inflammatory bowel disease.

A recent study found that patients newly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) often had other chronic conditions.

The study, published in Neurology, examined 23,382 MS patients with several common chronic conditions at the time of diagnosis and a matched cohort of 116,638 people who did not have MS.

The conditions examined included: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung disease, inflammatory bowel disease, fibromyalgia, epilepsy, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

The results of the study showed that patients with MS had higher rates of all these conditions except high cholesterol. For mental illnesses, the rates were especially high, with depression as the most common condition. There were approximately 19% of MS patients with depression versus 9% of individuals without MS.

“These findings are interesting for several reasons,” said study author Ruth Ann Marrie, MD. “It raises the question of whether there are shared risk factors for both MS and these other diseases, and if so, whether we could eventually find ways to reduce the risk of both MS and the other diseases. Also, studies have shown that MS may progress faster for people who also have other chronic conditions, so it's important for people and their doctors to be aware of this and try to manage these conditions.”

The rates of conditions varied among men and women with MS. Men suffering from MS were found to have a 48% higher rate of high blood pressure than men without the disease (22% of men with MS versus 15% of men without MS). Women with MS were found to have a rate that was 16% higher than women without MS (14% of women with MS versus 12% of women without MS).

Men with MS were also found to have higher levels of anxiety, depression, diabetes, and epilepsy compared to women with MS, while MS women had higher levels of chronic lung disease compared to MS men.

When researchers looked at the commonality of conditions 5 years prior to MS diagnosis, they found that individuals who were later diagnosed with MS were still more likely to have another condition.

Participants in the study were older and may not represent the MS population as a whole. Researchers state that further research is needed to determine the differences between men and women and whether or not the safety of MS treatments differs from those who have additional chronic illnesses.

“One possible reason for the finding is that these chronic illnesses and MS share many of the same risk factors," said William B. Grant, PhD, who wrote a corresponding editorial. “Smoking, obesity, low vitamin D and low omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to contribute to the severity of MS and, in various combinations, these other illnesses as well. Doctors will want to stress to those with MS the importance of correcting these problems.”