Study: Warning Signs May Precede Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms

New research has associated certain health problems with later diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is difficult to diagnose due to the variety of symptoms that an individual may experience. However, new research has found that potential signs of the disease may occur before the definitive MS-related symptoms manifest.

According to the researchers, individuals later diagnosed with MS are up to 4 times more likely to be treated for nervous system disorders, such as pain or sleep problems, and are up to 50% more likely to visit a psychiatrist.

Because the disease causes symptoms that can be associated with other disorders, confirmation of diagnosis is often done by magnetic resonance imaging, a test of nerve impulses, or an examination of spinal fluid. Identifying MS earlier can be crucial to slowing the effects of disease on the brain and spinal cord, leading to improved patient outcomes.

The study, which was the largest-ever effort to document symptoms of individuals before MS diagnosis, used the health records of 14,000 individuals with the disease in Canada between 1984 and 2014. The researchers compared the data with health records of 67,000 individuals without MS.

In their findings, the researchers noted commonalities in individuals who were later diagnosed with MS. Fibromyalgia was 3 times as common in these individuals and irritable bowel syndrome was almost twice as common. Additionally, migraine headaches and mood or anxiety disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, were also markedly higher in individuals who were later diagnosed with MS, according to the researchers.

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Higher rates of those illnesses are also associated with increased use of medications for musculoskeletal disorders, nervous system disorders, and disorders of the genito-urinary tract, along with antidepressants and antibiotics, the researchers noted.

The findings suggest that MS can be preceded by early symptoms, known as prodrome, according to the researchers.

“We now need to delve deeper into this phenomenon, perhaps using data-mining techniques,” study author Helen Tremlett, PhD, a professor in the Division of Neurology at University of British Columbia, said in a press release. “We want to see if there are discernible patterns related to sex, age, or the ‘type’ of MS they eventually develop.”

For more of the latest data and research surrounding multiple sclerosis, check out Specialty Pharmacy Times' sister site, NeurologyLive.


A constellation of symptoms presages first definitive signs of multiple sclerosis [news release]. The University of British Columbia’s website. Accessed July 16, 2018.