Symptoms, like pain and fatigue, often cluster in newly diagnosed MS

Aug. 24, 2021

A recent Michigan Medicine study found that people newly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis experience a variety of significant symptoms that often cluster together, according to a news release from the university.

The study, published in Multiple Sclerosis Journal, analyzed data from more than 200 patients in the year following diagnosis with MS, which attacks the protective layer of a person’s nerves and can lead to disability.

Researchers found a substantial number of patients experienced pain, fatigue, depression, and anxiety – many reporting more than one symptom at the same time.

“The months following MS diagnosis are often a stressful period of uncertainty and change,” said Thomas Valentine, PhD, Multiple Sclerosis Rehabilitation Research Fellow at Michigan Medicine. “Our findings highlight the importance of early and routine assessment of patients’ symptoms, so that those patients who might benefit from treatment can be identified and receive appropriate care.”

The research team collected questionnaires from MS patients at six intervals in the first year of diagnosis. Of 230 participants, half reported pain symptoms, 62.6% felt fatigued, 47.4% experienced depression symptoms and 38.7% had anxiety symptoms.

Just over one-fifth of all participants had no symptoms. However, nearly 60% of the newly diagnosed patients experienced a cluster of two or more of the observed ailments in the first year.

“One symptom can cause or aggravate other symptoms; fatigue, in particular, tends to cluster with pain, depression and anxiety,” Valentine said. “These results speak to the need for comprehensive screening. If, for example, a patient reports significant fatigue, they should also be asked if they are experiencing pain and other symptoms.”

Multiple sclerosis is typically treated with disease-modifying therapies, ranging from oral medications to injections and infusions. A primary goal of these therapies is to prevent symptomatic episodes, referred to as relapses, but targeted symptom management is also key to improving quality of life.

Researchers also noted the trajectory of patient symptoms fluctuated over the course of the one-year observational period. Some who did not feel pain or fatigue in the first month after their diagnosis reported it months later, while others who were depressed or anxious early did not report the same symptoms later that year.

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