Early signs of multiple sclerosis that could appear five years before diagnosis

Vision problems and difficulty walking are usually some of the first symptoms to alert patients to multiple sclerosis (MS). However, new research, published in the journal Neurology, identified other red flags that could ring alarm bells.

The research revealed five problems that struck MS patients up to five years before they were eventually diagnosed. Researchers found that constipation, urinary tract infections (UTIs), bladder infections, depression and sexual problems could be early warning signs. 

While these symptoms could point to the cruel condition, the researchers explained that these ailments are “common” and could also signal other diseases. Dr Celine Louapre, of Sorbonne University in Paris, said: “Of course, not everyone who has these symptoms will go on to develop MS.”

However, the expert shared that the new research may prove helpful for those at high-risk of getting MS, such as anyone with a family history. Other tell-tale signs of the autoimmune condition include difficulty walking, vision problems and muscle stiffness or spasms.

MS is triggered by problems with the immune system that causes it to mistakenly attack the brain or spinal cord. The autoimmune condition targets the myelin sheath – the layer of protein and fatty acids which protects the nerves that carry signals from the brain.

Damage dealt to the sheath leaves brain signals, like those to the muscles which are needed to walk, disrupted and slowed.

There is currently no cure but treatments such as steroids can control the condition and ease the symptoms.

However, it can take patients years before they receive a diagnosis of the condition.

Now, researchers looked at data from 20,000 patients in the UK and France who were newly diagnosed with MS.

The team compared each patient’s medical history with three people who matched their age and sex but did not suffer from the condition. 

The findings showed that MS patients were 22 percent more likely to have depression in the five years before their condition was confirmed, compared to those who did not have MS.

They were also 50 percent more likely to have constipation. The risk of UTIs was measured at 38 percent, sexual problems at 37 percent and bladder infections at 21 percent.

In their next step, the research team compared these symptoms to problems of those with other autoimmune conditions like Crohn’s disease and lupus.

The five possible symptoms were also more common among these patients in the five years pre-diagnosis compared to the general population.

The researchers explained that this means the five signs “lack specificity to MS”.

Furthermore, they said it “remains unclear” whether the ailments are “risk factors for MS” or “non-specific early MS symptoms”. 

However, they hope these “early signs” can help scientists to understand the biological mechanisms that occur in MS patients before “actual symptoms of the disease develop”.

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