A new study published in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal has found that several common symptoms of MS often cluster together for patients in their first year following diagnosis.
The study was conducted by researchers from Michigan Medicine and used data from 230 patients in their first year after diagnosis. The team looked at the presence, co-occurrence, and trajectories of four common symptoms of MS: pain, fatigue, depression, and anxiety. The data for the research came from questionnaires filled out at intervals of 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, and 12-months, where the patients self-reported their symptoms.
Just over half the patients reported having pain symptoms at some point during the year. 62.6% said they experienced fatigue, 47.4% felt depressed, and 38.7% had bouts of anxiety. When the researchers examined the data for evidence of clusters, they discovered that almost 60% of patients had at some point experienced two or more symptoms.
Commenting on the results, the lead author of the paper Thomas Valentine, Ph.D., said that the results showed the need for comprehensive screening of patients when they present with a symptom. “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,” Valentine said.
Early comprehensive screening may provide a significant benefit in the treatment of the disease. The National MS Society points to studies that show the best chance of limiting long-term disability occurs during the early phase of the disease.
Most initial MS treatments focus on medications that can reduce the frequency and severity of attacks. In addition to these medications that address the disease, many MS care providers also use medications and other strategies to help manage a patient’s symptoms.
One of the study’s co-authors, Anna Krantz, Ph.D., highlighted the need for symptom clusters to be considered when deciding on treatment approaches in the first year post-diagnosis: “Clusters of symptoms as seen in many patients in the first year after MS diagnosis can seem challenging but may also present an opportunity to identify treatments that address multiple symptoms at once,” Kratz said. “For instance, antidepressants can help with both mood and somatic symptoms. When clinicians see these clusters of symptoms, their minds should turn to the options that interdisciplinary rehabilitation care can offer to address multiple symptoms at once.”