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New research from the University of British Columbia suggests that early-stage multiple sclerosis (MS) may be more easily identified by recognizing a higher likelihood of mental illness in patients during the years preceding the onset of their disease.

Depression and anxiety could be pointers of MS onset

The study suggests a potential link between psychiatric conditions like anxiety and depression and the early signs of multiple sclerosis (MS), known as the prodromal phase. This phase consists of preliminary symptoms that precede the typical MS symptoms.

MS is a severe chronic autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system, leading to the body self-attacking itself. Its symptoms vary widely among individuals, ranging from mild issues like numbness or dizziness to severe impairments such as vision loss, mobility problems, and speech difficulties. This variability makes MS diagnosis challenging for doctors, often leading to misdiagnosis due to symptom overlap with other conditions. Consequently, patients may suffer for months or even years before receiving a correct diagnosis.

The primary focus of multiple sclerosis (MS) is on myelin, the protective fatty covering of nerve fibers. In MS patients, myelin is frequently damaged or destroyed, resulting in the formation of scar tissue called sclerosis. This damage hinders the transmission of vital electrical signals between the brain and other parts of the body.

Prodromal events used to identify onset of MS

Senior study author Dr Helen Tremlett said that for a long time, it was believed that multiple sclerosis (MS) only became clinically apparent when an individual had their initial demyelinating episode, often manifesting as vision issues. However, it is now recognized that there is a prelude to these events during which the disease exhibits more subtle and indirect symptoms.

The researchers aim to enhance understanding of the early phases of MS to enable earlier detection and intervention. Similar prodromal periods exist in diseases like Parkinson’s, where patients experience symptoms like constipation long before motor deficiencies develop.

According to Dr. Tremlett, Identifying MS earlier can lead to early treatment, potentially slowing disease progression and enhancing patients’ quality of life.