Survey Assesses How Health Professionals Treat Other Health Conditions in MS Patients

Joana Fernandes, PhD avatar

by Joana Fernandes, PhD |

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Resilience in MS patients

Healthcare providers frequently assess multiple sclerosis (MS) patients for the development of other health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, pain and sleep disturbance, according to results of a survey-study. The study also includes information about how health professionals treat and counsel MS patients diagnosed with these conditions.

The study, “Assessment And Treatment Of Psychiatric Distress, Sexual Dysfunction, Sleep Disturbances, And Pain In Multiple Sclerosis – A Survey Of Members Of The Consortium Of Multiple Sclerosis Centers,” was published in the International Journal of MS Care.

MS patients frequently develop other health conditions, including psychiatric illnesses (depression and anxiety), sexual dysfunction, sleep disturbances and pain, which can interfere with the patients’ clinical outcome and quality of life. These five issues can be tackled with drug and psychological treatments, but whether doctors assess MS patients and include these approaches in their practice is uncertain.

Researchers asked members of the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CMSC), an organization of healthcare professionals (including doctors, nurses and rehabilitation therapists) in the U.S. and Canada, to complete an anonymous online survey. Questions included whether they routinely assessed MS patients for the five health conditions — depression, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, sleep disturbances and pain — and if they used general or specific questions in their practice.

Participants also were questioned as to which treatment(s) they recommended for each of the different health conditions under analysis (for instance, whether they prescribed medication, of referred the patient to a specialist or mental health provider for psychotherapy).

Participants were asked to provide an estimate of the percentage of cases with each of the five health conditions among their MS patients.

Analysis of the survey indicated that more than 80% of the participants included a routine assessment for depression, anxiety, sleep and pain in their practice. In contrast, only about half actually assessed patients regarding sexual dysfunction, with many waiting for their patients to initiate the conversation.

Also, most respondents estimated that 41-60% of their MS patients had depression or anxiety, while sexual dysfunction estimates were lower (which may be related to the fact that not all doctors assess this condition in patients).

Results also indicated that most participants usually use a general question in their assessment of other health issues in MS patients, rather than a specific question list. Also, most of them frequently recommend drug treatments for these mental and physical health co-morbidities.

Many participants said they frequently refer their patients for psychotherapy, particularly in cases of depression and anxiety. However, only slightly more than a quarter of the respondents reported referring patients with pain or sleep issues to a health psychologist, a fact that may be associated with a low availability for such treatment.

“Healthcare providers are aware of the prevalence of these issues in their patients with MS,” the researchers concluded in the report. “Promoting the use of validated screening measures and increased research on psychotherapeutic interventions for sleep and pain are two potential avenues for improving patient care.”

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