Trio of Symptoms Common in People with Multiple Sclerosis

Individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS) are at increased risk for mental health issues, as a result of their decreased quality of life. Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms reported in MS and can cause loss of employment, loss of independence, and low quality of life. When fatigue is coupled with other symptoms such as anxiety and depression, it can cause significant mental health declines in those with MS. These three symptoms play a large role in the extremely high cases of suicide among MS clients. Research suggests that people with MS are twice as likely to die from suicide or to attempt suicide or self-harm as people without MS. In fact, some statistics suggest that the rate of suicide among MS clients is nearly eight times that of the general population without MS.

These frightening numbers call for more research into the actual rates of depression, anxiety, and fatigue among people with MS. Understanding what the true levels of these symptoms are, and how they influence one another, can help clinicians devise treatments aimed at reducing symptoms severity and ultimately, reducing the rate of suicides among MS clients. To this end, B. Wood of the Menzies Research Institute at the University of Tasmania in Australia recently conducted a two-and-a-half year study that examined the symptoms of 198 individuals with MS. Wood looked at factors such as gender, seasonal occurrence, disease duration, and age, and then examined how they affected symptomology. The results revealed that fatigue was more common in the men than the women, and played a significant role on the deterioration of quality of life. Overall, half of all the participants reported fatigue at the onset of the study, just under half reported anxiety and less than 20% had symptoms of depression.

Even though the study did not provide treatment to the participants, it did consist of semi-annual evaluations. This element alone seemed to have an effect on the symptoms. Specifically, anxiety decreased by almost 10% per year, but depression and fatigue did not. This drop was more noticeable in the women than the men. Seasonal fluctuations did not affect symptoms as hypothesized based on the lack of sunlight in the winter months. And neither age nor disease duration had any significant influence as well. Overall, this research shows that this trio of symptoms can put people with MS at increased risk for suicide. Wood added, “These findings are important for clinicians who, on recognizing the occurrence of one factor, should have heightened awareness of the likely occurrence of other members of this trio.”

Wood, B; van der Mei, IAF; Ponsonby, A-L; Pittas, F; Quinn, S; Dwyer, T; Lucas, RM; and Taylor, BV. Prevalence and concurrence of anxiety, depression and fatigue over time in multiple sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis Journal. Feb2013, Vol. 19 Issue 2, p217-224. 8p. DOI: 10.1177/1352458512450351.

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  • Madeline


    February 26th, 2013 at 11:08 PM

    Fatigue, anxiety and depression? The latter two seem to have originated due to the fatigue IMO. Often when I’m fatigued it would make me anxious because I feel incapable of doing what I desire and that in turn brings in the depression due to being unable to perform the said task.

    I think fatigue is what needs to be targeted if we are to help people with multiple sclerosis. Interventions and treatments aimed at reducing fatigue should be given a priority. Not only does this help them overcome their disorder but would also make them feel a lot better mentally and emotionally, thereby further speeding up the recovery process!

  • caroline


    February 27th, 2013 at 3:55 AM

    I find MS and its onset to be one of the most devastating things that could happen to a young person, because these are people who are unwittingly struck with this in the prime of their lives, and once the symptoms begin, for the most part there is no turning back. It is easy to see how fatigue and depression will sometimes take hold and how this in addition to the other physical issues that you are trying to manage could feel like they are taking a huge toll on your health. It’s sad really, when you think of how many good people each year are brought down by something that perhaps even the week before woulf have been unimaginable to them.

  • Celia s

    Celia s

    February 27th, 2013 at 11:22 AM

    I can see how this would be a problem within the MS community but it is not isolated to just that disease. I think that you will see this run pretty rampant for any group of illnesses that can cause such long term pain for someone. I just don’t want others to think that this is the only disease that this is relevant to.

  • Landen V

    Landen V

    February 27th, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    Life without quality and days without energy are like food without flavor and a fountain without water. Fatigue causes low quality of life and that in turn causes more fatigue.

    A vicious chain doing its job. Depression and anxiety are its main weapons and the opposition seems just too strong. The ball is in our court and now that we know the enemy let us take the fight to it,countering one weapon at a time. Wishing all those with MS a good life and the strength to overcome all of this.

  • kelly N

    kelly N

    February 28th, 2013 at 11:44 PM

    Mere study and evaluations helped symptoms? Without treatment? Am I missing something here? If this is true evaluations certainly need more attention.

  • Olivia


    March 3rd, 2013 at 8:38 AM

    @ kelly n- I too see where there could be some confusion, but sometimes just talking about the issue can help. Yeah, there may be the need for further treatment, but at least recognizing that there is the chance for some of this to develop along with the disease is good to point out.

  • Christina


    August 22nd, 2013 at 10:56 PM

    Multiple Sclerosis most often is characterized by episodes of neurological dysfunction followed by periods of stabilization or partial to complete remission of symptoms. These symptoms (relapses or exacerbations) can appear over a few hours or days, can be gradually worsening over a period of a few weeks, or sometimes can present themselves acutely

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