Canadian Study Links Psychiatric Disorders and Physical Disability in Women with MS

Canadian Study Links Psychiatric Disorders and Physical Disability in Women with MS

Depression, anxiety and other mood disorders contribute to physical disability in women with multiples sclerosis, according to a Canadian study that confirmed the results of previous research.

The article the team wrote, “Psychiatric comorbidity is associated with disability progression in multiple sclerosis,” appeared in the journal Neurology.

Several studies have suggested that psychiatric disorders are common among MS patients. Brain inflammation linked to MS’s underlying mechanisms has been reported as a potential driver of depression and anxiety in patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS). Also, children with MS are known to be more susceptible to psychiatric disorders than other children.

These findings raise the question of whether psychiatric disorders contribute to MS progression and patient outcomes.

A Canadian team decided to study the issue. The team, led by Dr. Ruth Ann Marrie of the University of Manitoba, analyzed records on 2,312 adults who had been diagnosed with MS, 76 percent of whom were women with relapsing MS.

The records were from two provinces that represent about 15 population of the Canadian population — the British Columbia Multiple Sclerosis database and Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie Multiple Sclerosis Research Unit database.

During a follow-up period ranging from 6.2 to 14.8 years, 36 percent of the patients developed a mood or anxiety disorder. The most common was depression (37 percent), followed by anxiety (22 percent), and bipolar disorder (5 percent).

In results that were in line with previous reports, researchers found that patients with a mood or anxiety disorder had worse physical disability scores, measured by scores on the expanded disability status scale (EDSS). This trend was found in both men and women, but it was only statistically significant in women.

For a more detailed understanding of the association, the team re-analyzed data according to individual disorder. They found that only depression was significantly associated with higher EDSS scores. This suggested that anxiety and bipolar disorder did not contribute to physical disability in MS patients.

Collectively, the results suggested that psychiatric disorders, particularly depression, can contribute to MS progression and the “severity of subsequent neurologic disability,” the researchers wrote.

“Optimizing management of psychiatric comorbidities [disorders] should be explored as a means of potentially mitigating disability progression in MS,” the team suggested.


  1. Ali says:

    How do they prove that the depression / anxiety is not caused by having greater disability? Correlation does not imply causation. i.e. how can they state depression is causing disability, and not the other way around.

  2. Amanda says:

    Although correlation and causation are different a good study will look at relationship from many angles and try to determine the most probably relationship. It would not be the first time they got it wrong but it also would not be the first time the people were wrong – think about the world being round or gravity both concepts that were not accepted but later proven true. This is an early student and now we have a theory that over time will either be supported by more information or proven wrong. Overall I have very little disability but some days it does not stop me from being very depressed or worse yet having anxiety issues which all started just a few months before I got the official MS diagnosis.

  3. Brenda Douglas says:

    I never remember having depression before I had symptoms of MS. I hope this study is thorough. Anxiety and depression have become more prevalent and troublesome since my MS has progressed.

  4. Karen Junqueira says:

    I definitely experience that my physical abilities deteriorate when I experience stress/depression/anxiety. Once I remove the stress, my physical abilities improve and I feel much stronger and able.

  5. jane says:

    I am sure that all physical disabilities cause people to feel depressed but also feeling depressed almost always makes pain and difficulty moving about worse. What the study does not seem to have looked at, is whether if people get some counselling or talking support for their depression, they improve physically or psychologically or both. I suspect that both would improve substantially.

  6. Stephanie says:

    I was diagnosed bipolar/anxiety years before the MS diagnosis. But it is hard to tell how everything lines up together. I had massive bipolar depression/mania around the same time ms stuff started when I was 14. I think doctors not believing all the symptoms contributed big time to the severity of the bipolar. I still have days that really drag me down.

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