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11 March 2016

People newly diagnosed with MS share risk factors of other chronic diseases including epilepsy

A study has found that people newly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) may often have accompanying chronic health conditions such as epilepsy and depression.

Researchers examined how common a range of chronic conditions were in a study sample of 23,382 people with MS at the time of their diagnosis and 116,638 people of the same age and sex without the disease.

The chronic conditions included epilepsy, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, chronic lung disease, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

The results , published in the medical journal Neurology,showed that people with MS had higher rates of all of the conditions except high cholesterol. The rates were especially high for mental health illness. The most common condition was depression. At least 19 per cent of those with MS had depression compared to nine per cent of those without the disease.

"These findings are interesting for several reasons," said study author Ruth Ann Marrie, MD, of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, and member of the American Academy of Neurology.

"It raises the question of whether there are shared risk factors for both MS and these other diseases, and if so, whether we could eventually find ways to reduce the risk of both MS and the other diseases. Also, studies have shown that MS may progress faster for people who also have other chronic conditions, so it's important for people and their doctors to be aware of this and try to manage these conditions."

The results also showed that for many of the conditions, the rates were different for men and women with MS.  For example, men with MS had disproportionately higher levels of epilepsy, diabetes, depression and anxiety than women with MS, who had higher levels of chronic lung disease than men with MS.

Marrie said further study is needed about the differences between men and women and whether the safety of MS treatments differs for those with additional chronic illnesses.

The researchers also looked at how common the conditions were five years before the people were diagnosed with MS and found that people who were later diagnosed with MS were still more likely to have the other conditions.