Having multiple sclerosis unfortunately doesn't prevent people from developing other health conditions and these may have an impact on MS symptoms and treatment. An international study is trying to identify the most common conditions (comorbidities) experienced by people who have MS.
In the first phase of the study, researchers have identified scientific papers on MS and other conditions published between 1905 and 2012. Although the quality of these varies and the majority of the information is from north America or Europe, some trends can be seen.
- The other health conditions that are most common in people with MS are depression, anxiety (both of which can also be direct symptoms of MS), high blood pressure, high cholesterol and chronic lung disease. All of these are also common in the general population
- Compared to the general population, people with MS had a higher than expected risk of heart disease, stroke, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, bipolar disorder, sleep problems and alcohol abuse
- Of the autoimmune conditions, the ones most commonly seen alongside MS were thyroid disease and psoriasis
- People with MS seemed to have a higher risk of tumours of the lining of the central nervous system (meningiomas) and cancers of the urinary system.
- Pancreatic, ovarian, prostate and testicular cancer were reported less frequently than expected in people with MS
The studies don't suggest that MS is the cause of the other conditions or that having one of these conditions may have led to their developing MS. There is, however, evidence that having other health issues will have an impact on the lives of people with MS and may affect the treatments that are available to them.
The next stage of this study will be to develop better research into comorbidities and their effect on MS.
The research highlights that many of the additional health problems that people with MS may experience are also common in the general population. There are positive actions that people can take to help look after their general health and fitness. It's important for people with MS to have information on how exercise and a healthy diet can benefit their general wellbeing and also improve some of the common symptoms of MS.