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Symptoms of MS may appear years before diagnosis

By Dennis Thompson, HealthDay News
Depression, constipation, urinary tract infections and sexual problems are all more likely in MS patients five years before their official diagnosis, compared with people who never develop MS, researchers found.
 
 Photo by Engin Akyurt/Pexels
Depression, constipation, urinary tract infections and sexual problems are all more likely in MS patients five years before their official diagnosis, compared with people who never develop MS, researchers found. Photo by Engin Akyurt/Pexels

Patients in the earliest stages of multiple sclerosis might develop certain symptoms that offer an early clue to the degenerative nerve disease, researchers report.

Depression, constipation, urinary tract infections and sexual problems are all more likely in MS patients five years before their official diagnosis, compared with people who never develop MS, researchers found.

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Those conditions are also more likely to occur in people with other autoimmune diseases like lupus or Crohn's disease, results show.

These early signs "would not necessarily lead to earlier diagnosis of the disease in the general population, since these conditions are common and could also be signs of other diseases, but this information could be helpful for people who are at a higher risk of developing MS, such as people with a family history of the disease or those who show signs of MS on brain scans but do not have any symptoms of the disease," said researcher Dr. Celine Louapre, an associate professor of neurology at Sorbonne University in Paris.

MS occurs when the immune system attacks the protective sheath that covers nerve fibers, causing progressive interruption of nerve signals between the brain and the body.

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For the study, Louapre and her colleagues compared more than 20,000 people newly diagnosed with MS with nearly 55,000 people who do not have MS. Each MS patient was matched with three healthy people of the same age and sex.

They also compared the MS patients to nearly 30,500 people with Crohn's disease and more than 7,300 patients with lupus.

The researchers specifically reviewed medical records, looking for 113 different diseases and symptoms that the patients might have had in the five years before and after their diagnosis.

People with MS were:

  • 22% more likely to have depression.
  • 50% more likely to have constipation.
  • 38% more likely to have urinary tract infections.
  • 47% more likely to have sexual problems.
  • 21% more likely to have bladder infections.

About 14% of MS patients had prescriptions for antidepressants five years before diagnosis, compared to 10% of those without MS.

By five years after diagnosis, 37% of MS patient had been prescribed antidepressants compared with 19% of those without MS.

The findings were published Tuesday in the journal Neurology.

"Of course, not everyone who has these symptoms will go on to develop MS," Louapre said in a journal news release. "We're hoping that eventually these early signs will help us understand the biological mechanisms that occur in the body before the actual symptoms of the disease develop."

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More information

The Cleveland Clinic has more about multiple sclerosis.

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