Are These Diseases Early MS Warning Signs?

Ed Tobias avatar

by Ed Tobias |

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It’s not unusual to hear someone say, “I was diagnosed with MS in [fill in the year], but I probably should have been diagnosed five or 10 years earlier.”

Now a study reports that during the five years before someone is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), it’s quite possible that person will show some early warning signs. Those signs include pain, sleep problems, and issues that prompt a psychiatrist visit. And they point to other diseases.

The research, conducted by the University of British Columbia and published in Multiple Sclerosis Journal, examined the health records of about 14,000 people with multiple sclerosis between 1984 and 2014 and compared them to the health records of 67,000 people without the disease. The researchers said it’s the largest-ever effort to document symptoms of people before they know they have MS.

Body pain, bowel problems, headaches, and depression

The researchers found that fibromyalgia, a condition involving widespread musculoskeletal pain, was more than three times as common in people who were later diagnosed with MS compared to those who weren’t. Fatigue and memory issues are also symptoms of fibromyalgia and those symptoms may be triggered by stress. Sound a bit like MS?

Irritable bowel syndrome was reported to be almost twice as common in people who later progressed to an MS diagnosis. Interestingly, recent research has indicated a link between gut microbes and MS.

Join the MS forums: an online community for patients with MS.

Two other conditions with higher rates among people who are later diagnosed with MS are migraine headaches and mood disorders. Those disorders include depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

Unsurprisingly, the researchers report the higher rates of those illnesses also correspond with higher use of medications for musculoskeletal disorders, nervous system disorders, and genitourinary tract disorders, along with antidepressants and antibiotics.

It’s time to look more closely at early MS warnings

In a news release, lead researcher Helen Tremlett said the study provides definitive evidence that tip-off symptoms can precede an MS diagnosis.

“The existence of such ‘warning signs’ are well-accepted for Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, but there has been little investigation into a similar pattern for MS,” Tremlett said. “We now need to delve deeper into this phenomenon, perhaps using data-mining techniques. We want to see if there are discernible patterns related to sex, age, or the ‘type’ of MS they eventually develop.”

Sounds like an excellent idea to me. Meanwhile, both patients and doctors need to be more aware of these possibly connected diseases.

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Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Dorothy Levinson avatar

Dorothy Levinson

My husband experienced double vision in September of 1967 which lasted two weeks. The eye doctor called it a spasm of accomodation . In June of1969 my husband started having balance problems and urinary incontinence at night. Three months later after having a spinal tap, he was diagnosed with MS. Those were the dark ages and the only treatment was prednisone. Here we are forty-eight years later and still waiting for a cure.

Carole avatar


When I was diagnosed with MS in 1992, my first thought was not oh no, I've got MS but thank God, I'm not crazy! For several years before my diagnosis I was told time after time that there was nothing wrong with me. I was told I should eat better (even though I did eat a balanced diet) and my stomach problems would go away and I would sleep better. No Doctor I saw had a definitive answer for what was going on with me. I know you can't be tested for everything when you present with a medical problem but as the article says doctors and patients should be aware of these warning signs.

Terry avatar


I was diagnosed in 1988 at age 32. Prior to that, I was told I had IBS and not to eat corn since it bothered my stomach...just not eat anything that flared my gut. I had chronic UTI’s starting at 22 and still do.

Five years prior to diagnosis, legs would go numb and wobbly, hurt, etc. I travelled a lot and went to every ER in the US and told I had a ruptured disk, pinched disk, pinched nerve. I had cabinets full of anti-inflammatory prescription pills. Ended up with optic neuritis and finally was diagnosed. Thank goodness, as I thought I was becoming a hypochondriac or had an undiagnosed brain tumor.

Theresa Halstead avatar

Theresa Halstead

This article rings true with me. I thought I had MS 5 years ago and went into the doctor for an MRI, there were no brain lesions. I was a teacher and I would come home from teaching with heavy fatigue and my feet were killing me. I thought I was just walking too much, because I would have to walk my kids in the hot sun back and forth, I would say three miles. I started having speech issues, where when I got stressed out, I could not talk correctly. To go back to other symptoms, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 1993, and had to have my large intestines removed. I knew when an autoimmune disease hits, it can hit women twice. I have been depressed for years, and I kept getting sick because the large intestines runs about 90 percent of your immune system, so I was on large doses of antibiotics for a long time to get well. I started going to a naturopath for a while which has literally saved my life twice already. They try to balance my system and I did not believe in naturopathy at first but I do now. I cannot take antibiotics anymore, even the strongest dose does not affect me. I took too many over 20 years and became tolerant which is happening now to a lot of people. Anyway now, I am taking essential oils and they are helping me a lot with my depression, anxiety and my extremely high cholesterol and my MS symptoms. I am going to leave my email address in case anyone wants to talk to me. I have been trying to find answers for so long, I think I have found a lot that help me. [email protected]

Yours truly, stay strong, have faith, have courage, the answers are out there. Love Theresa

Stephen Price avatar

Stephen Price

I was diagnosed with MS after a lumber punch at Southmead hospital by a very competent nurse a couple of years ago and have since balanced my gut bacteria with candidFree by Zane HELLAS(with some hope and with some success) and supported with trace elements too many to list purchased from Amazon(UK) online.

XeniaE avatar


Yep...I was diagnosed with "fibro" years prior to getting my MS diagnosis. It was of course MS all along, but lazy doctors often write these symptoms off as "fibro" so that they won't have to dig any deeper. If I hadn't finally gotten a really bad attack (which I was initially told was "just another fibro flare" until it got much worse), I never would have gotten my MS diagnosis at all. Never settle for a fibro diagnosis if you have all the early symptoms of MS, because MS is most effectively treated by catching it early on. If you accept a fibro diagnosis and never bother getting tested for MS, you could very well be postponing treatment that could spare you later becoming wheelchair-bound or even bed-ridden. (And untreated relapsing-remitting MS can turn into secondary-progressive MS, which is past the window of being treatable.)

Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Xenia,

Thanks for your comments, which are very interesting.

I have to disagree, however, with your statement that SPMS is "past the window of being treatable." Many of us, myself included, who have moved from RRMS to SPMS are being successfully treated. Though most DMTs aren't listed as "approved" to treat SPMS they're being used for that purpose anyway. I think that patient experiences show that their secondary MS progression is either being slowed or halted by these treatments.

Moving into the secondary stage doesn't mean treatment is no longer possible.



Sweeney avatar


If you don't mind sharing, about how long was it between your fibro diagnosis and your actual MS diagnosis? What test was done to confirm the MS? I have been dealing with MS symptoms for about 8 years. Been to different doctors and no answers yet. I finally had a brain MRI however it came back negative for lesions so my doctor wants to right it off as Fibro. I refuse to accept this diagnoses and am looking for any help I can get.

Broce avatar


I first had symptoms in 1982/83. It started in my neck and back with extreme spasticity, but no one listened. As long as I went for a massage or a chiropractor 3 times a week, it was livable, but the moment I stopped I was in agony, and lived with a heating pad on my back.

Over the years, I had a number of other symptoms which were either mild enough for me to write of as an anomaly, or which doctors said must be stress related. No one ever bothered to actually do a physical examination when it was so easy to pass me off as a neurotic woman. I was working 60-80 hour weeks, and single parenting. Doctors assumed that my back issues were 'because you wear heels' or said that 'all women have back trouble,' and the other symptoms were just dismissed out of hand.

Thanksgiving week of 2008, more than 25 years after my first symptoms, I came down with a bout of optic neuritis, and was finally diagnosed. Because I went so long without treatment, I've already been secondary progressive for 6-7 years. I'm on Tysabri, and not having much in the way of exacerbations anymore, but I continue to go downhill. I cannot tolerate temperatures above 54 degrees even inside, have fatigue I find hard to even comprehend, tremors, spasticity, etc. - pretty much the whole gamut of symptoms.

It's about time that attention was paid to the number of MS patients who go without a proper diagnosis for so long before they can get treatment.

Danielle avatar


Thank you all for your support. I have only been struggling for 1 1/2 years, very frustrated with the medical system! I have very bad muscle tension in my neck and shoulders, lower back pain, migraines with extreme eye pain, pins and needle feelings in hands, arms, legs, and feet especially with exercise, even mild exercise causes burning feeling in arms and legs. I have muscles twitches and very bad restless legs. MRI shows nothing on spinal cord, 4 spots on brain which could be related to migraines. The brain MRI was repeated almost 1 year later and is still the same so they have ruled out MS and wont even send me for a lumbar puncture, I am now waiting for a rheumatologist to possibly diagnose me with fibromyalgia. Now I think I should keeping looking until I find a doc that will order a spinal tap! Thank you all for sharing!! God bless!!


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