Study Finds Fatigue to Be the Most Common Driver of Employment Changes in Multiple Sclerosis Patients

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In a recent study published in the International Journal of MS Care, a team of researchers determined that among patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), fatigue was the most common symptom associated with the decision to leave work or reduce the employment status. According to the researchers, comprehensive symptom management, especially fatigue management, may help patients preserve their employment status.

MS is a neurological disorder commonly affecting people aged 20 to 40 years, an important age range for career progression and earnings. The symptoms of MS, including neurological disability, cognitive impairment, depression, and fatigue, have been shown to have an important effect on patients’ daily activities, social relationships, and self-esteem.

To gain a better understanding of key symptoms/factors that lead patients with MS to leave the workforce or reduce their employment hours, in the study entitled “Understanding Drivers of Employment Changes in a Multiple Sclerosis Population, Karin S. Coyne, PhD, MPH from Evidera, Outcomes Research in Bethesda, and colleagues conducted a qualitative analysis of 27 patients with a clinical diagnosis of MS who reported applying for disability benefits, leaving the workforce, reducing work hours, or changing jobs due to the disease within the past six months.

Interviews were conducted in English by trained interviewers who used a semistructured, standardized discussion guide to facilitate the conversation. The guide included open-ended questions about patients’ experiences with MS and factors that led them to change their employment status.

Results revealed that physical symptoms, such as fatigue, were the most common reasons for employment change. In fact, fatigue was found to be the most persistent symptom, and it affected mental and physical aspects of MS patients’ jobs. The majority of the patients (85.2%) reported at least two symptoms as drivers for change in employment status. 40.7% of the study participants reported at least one cognitive symptom, such as memory loss. MS patients also mentioned a significant negative impact of the loss of employment itself on their mental status, family life, and financial stability.

In sum, researchers concluded from their study that:

  • The combination of physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms of MS can have a detrimental effect on patients’ employment, with fatigue being a particularly impactful symptom.
  • Fatigue can lead to a worsening of other MS symptoms, further highlighting the potential benefits of fatigue management.
  • Patients with MS often report at least two symptoms as being key factors leading to changes in employment status, underscoring the need for comprehensive symptom management to help maintain employment.
  • Health care providers should help patients understand how MS may affect their ability to perform their usual job functions, and to prepare for adjustments or modifications to their work routine as needed.
  • Health care providers should assess the negative mental, emotional, and financial effects of a reduction or loss of employment on MS patients.

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Daniela holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology from The University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, a MSc in Health Psychology and a BSc in Clinical Psychology. Her work has been focused on vulnerability to psychopathology and early identification and intervention in psychosis.
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