People newly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) tend to also suffer from other chronic health problems, particularly depression, according to a Canadian study, that also emphasizes the importance of investigating whether the safety of MS treatments differs for these patients.
“These findings are interesting for several reasons,” the study’s author, Ruth Ann Marrie, a member of the American Academy of Neurology, said in a press release. “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 health conditions, so it’s important for people and their doctors to be aware of this and try to manage these conditions.”
The research team from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, examined the health records of 23,382 individuals with MS (71.9 percent female) at the time of diagnosis, and 116,638 MS-free individuals of the same age and sex. Researchers registered the rates of several chronic conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, fibromyalgia, chronic lung disease, inflammatory bowel disease, epilepsy, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression.
Findings, published in the journal Neurology, showed that people with MS had higher rates of all the investigated co-morbidities, except for high cholesterol. Particularly, mental disorders were common in MS patients.
Depression was the most frequent condition — 19 percent of the MS study group had depression compared to only 9 percent in non-MS individuals. Since depression can severely impact the quality of life and increase the risk for hospitalization in MS patients, Dr. Marrie argued that mental health conditions need to be closely monitored.
The study, ”Sex differences in comorbidity at diagnosis of multiple sclerosis,” also found that in men with MS, the rate of high blood pressure was 22 percent, compared to 15 percent in non-MS men. These figures were higher than among women, where 14 percent of those diagnosed with MS had high blood pressure, compared to 12 percent of women without MS. The researchers also noted that male MS patients had higher levels of anxiety, depression, epilepsy, and diabetes in comparison to female patients, while women had higher rates of chronic lung disease.
When the researchers looked at the health records of the people five years before they were diagnosed with MS, they found that a greater number of co-morbid conditions were also present.
William B. Grant, at the Sunlight, Nutrition and Health Research Center in San Francisco, who wrote a corresponding editorial, said in the release: “One possible reason for the finding is that these chronic illnesses and MS share many of the same risk factors. 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.”
The mean age of the patients included in the study was higher than the average age at MS diagnosis (ages ranged from 20 to over 60, and the mean age at diagnosis was 44). The findings might, therefore, not be representative for the entire MS population.