You are here:

MS research update - Anxiety and depression in Brits with MS - 08 August 2012

Everyone has times when they feel low and it would not be surprising to find that people with MS have times when it is difficult to deal emotionally with some aspects of life. Anger, frustration, anxiety and disappointment can come to the surface.

For some people, these feelings do not pass after a reasonable period of time and turn into a deeper depressive illness – a longer lasting state of low mood which interferes with daily life. For some people, depression is a consequence of dealing with a long term illness. For others, the depression can be one of the symptoms of their MS as it is caused by MS affecting a part of the brain involved in controlling mood.

This study looked at the proportion of people with MS reporting depression or anxiety. 7,786 adults with MS enrolled in the UK MS register took part. 14% had primary progressive MS, 62% had relapsing remitting MS, 9% had secondary progressive MS and 15% did not know which type of MS they had. The average age was 51. The average time since diagnosis by a neurologist was 12 years but the average time since first symptoms was 17 years. 70% were women.

The participants completed a questionnaire called the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS). It asks people to say whether they experience certain thoughts and feelings often, sometimes, rarely or not at all. Examples from the questionnaire are "I feel miserable and sad", "I have lost interest in things", "Worrying thoughts constantly go through my mind" and "I feel life is not worth living". The answers are scored and the scores give a measure of how anxious or depressed someone feels.

The researchers defined a score of eight or more on the HADS scale as representing a diagnosis of anxiety or depression. They were able to look at how frequently anxiety and depression occurred in people with MS but also how anxious and how depressed they were.

They found that just over half (54%) had anxiety and almost half (47%) had depression which is higher than in the general population. Being both anxious and depressed was common.

The results were also analysed for various groups of participants. They found that women with relapsing remitting MS were more anxious than men with relapsing remitting MS. These women were also more anxious than women with other types of MS.

Both men and women with secondary progressive MS were more depressed than men and women with other types of MS.

The researchers suggest that the mental health needs of people with MS should be better addressed.

Jones KH, Ford DV, Jones PA, et al.
A large-scale study of anxiety and depression in people with multiple sclerosis: a survey via the web portal of the UK MS register.
PLoS One. 2012;7(7):e41910.
Free full text of article

More about anxiety and depression

Mild depression may not need treating but symptoms that persist or are severe should be addressed by seeing a health professional such as your GP or MS nurse who can refer you if necessary. It can be difficult to speak about these issues as some people may think that they should deal with it themselves or that others will judge them badly for having mental health issues.

This research shows how common depression and anxiety are for people with MS so an individual is not unusual or in any way to blame if they are experiencing these symptoms. Help is available and talking to people, whether friends and family or health professionals, is the first step to take. Treatment may be with well established medication or by using "talking therapies" like cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).

Read more about depression in the A-Z or MS.


Benign MS – how common is it really?

People with benign MS have infrequent, very mild attacks separated by long periods with no symptoms. As the defining characteristic of benign MS is the long-term absence of symptoms, it can only be diagnosed looking back after ten or more years.

Identifying who has benign MS is important as it could prevent the person being treated with unnecessary drugs, such as the disease modifying treatments if there are few, if any, relapses. Also, it could save the person unnecessary worry about their future.

However, there has been debate as to whether benign MS is a distinct form of MS or whether it represents people who have a slower developing and milder form of relapsing remitting MS.

This study examined the clinical records of 874 people with relapsing onset MS in France to see how many could be classified as having benign MS after ten, 20 or 30 years after symptoms began.

Disability was assessed using the Disability Status Scale (DSS), an earlier version of the EDSS scale more commonly used now. Two different definitions of benign MS were used: either a DSS score of two or less or a DSS score of three or less, ten years after onset of symptoms. Two on the DSS scale is defined as minimal disability in one functional system. Three is defined as moderate disability in one functional system or mild disability in three or four functional systems, though fully ambulatory. You can read the definitions of functional systems here

Overall, the researchers found that just over half (58%) had a score of two or less after ten years of symptoms. Out of this group, nearly half (42%) still had benign MS ten years later (20 years in total since onset) and almost half of those (41%) were still classified as having benign MS after 30 years.

Overall, three quarters (74%) had a score of three or less after ten years of symptoms. Out of this group, just over half (54%) were still classified as having benign MS after a total of 20 years and 60% of these remained in that category after 30 years.

The researchers concluded that having a DSS score of two or three after ten years cannot predict whether the MS will remain benign or not. Overall, the proportion of people whose MS remained benign was halved every ten years. They comment that benign MS may not be a helpful term as it cannot accurately predict whose MS will stay benign in the longer term.

Leray E, Coustans M, Le Page E, et al.
'Clinically definite benign multiple sclerosis', an unwarranted conceptual hodgepodge: evidence from a 30-year observational study.
Mult Scler. 2012 Aug 2. [Epub ahead of print]

More about types of MS

This research adds to the evidence that, rather than being a static form of MS, benign MS is probably the lower end of the spectrum of relapsing remitting MS where the disease activity is developing more slowly or is not so apparent.

Types of MS in the A-Z of MS

EDSS scale in the A-Z of MS

Research into sight problems in benign MS

Symptoms and symptom management

Goessaert AS, Everaert KC.
Onabotulinum toxin A for the treatment of neurogenic detrusor overactivity due to spinal cord injury or multiple sclerosis.
Expert Rev Neurother. 2012 Jul;12(7):763-75.


Krone B, Ramagopalan SV.
Evidence for a multiple sclerosis epidemic?
Eur J Neurol. 2012 Aug 5. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-1331.2012.03823.x. [Epub ahead of print]

Assessment tools

Smerbeck AM, Parrish J, Yeh EA, et al.
Regression-based norms improve the sensitivity of the National MS Society Consensus Neuropsychological Battery for Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis (NBPMS).
Clin Neuropsychol. 2012 Aug;26(6):985-1002.

Bladh S, Nilsson MH, Hariz GM, et al.
Psychometric performance of a generic walking scale (Walk-12G) in multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease.
J Neurol. 2012 Apr;259(4):729-38.

Vitamin D

Steffensen LH, Brustad M, Kampman MT.
What is needed to keep persons with multiple sclerosis vitamin D-sufficient throughout the year?
J Neurol. 2012 Aug 1. [Epub ahead of print]

Psychological aspects

Wood H.
Multiple sclerosis: Cognitive training provides lasting benefits for patients with multiple sclerosis.
Nat Rev Neurol. 2012 Aug 7. doi: 10.1038/nrneurol.2012.163. [Epub ahead of print]

Chiaravalloti ND.
Could behavioral therapies target specific deficits in multiple sclerosis patients?
Expert Rev Neurother. 2012 Jul;12(7):755-7.

Brissart H, Leroy M, Morele E, et al.
Cognitive rehabilitation in multiple sclerosis.
Neurocase. 2012 Aug 1. [Epub ahead of print]

Rapaport B, Karceski S.
Multiple sclerosis and stress.
Neurology. 2012 Jul 31;79(5):e47-9.

[no authors listed]
Retraction note: Cognitive deficits in multiple sclerosis: a review of functional MRI studies.
Neurol Sci. 2012 Apr;33(2):483.

Physical activity

Jackson K, Edginton-Bigelow K, Cooper C, et al.
A group kickboxing program for improving balance, mobility, and quality of life in individuals with multiple sclerosis: a pilot study.
J Neurol Phys Ther. 2012 Jul 27. [Epub ahead of print]


Patti F, Nicoletti A, Leone C, et al.
Multiple sclerosis and CCSVI: a population-based case control study.
PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e41227.


Reininghaus E, Reininghaus B, Fitz W, et al.
Sexual behavior, body image, and partnership in chronic illness: a comparison of Huntington's disease and multiple sclerosis.
J Nerv Ment Dis. 2012 Aug;200(8):716-20.

Year: 2016

December 2016

November 2016

July 2016

May 2016

April 2016

March 2016

February 2016

January 2016

Year: 2015

December 2015

November 2015

October 2015

May 2015

April 2015

March 2015

February 2015

January 2015

Year: 2014

December 2014

November 2014

October 2014

September 2014

August 2014

July 2014

June 2014

May 2014

April 2014

March 2014

February 2014

January 2014

Year: 2013

December 2013

November 2013

October 2013

September 2013

August 2013

July 2013

June 2013

May 2013

April 2013

March 2013

February 2013

January 2013

Year: 2012

December 2012

November 2012

October 2012

September 2012

August 2012

July 2012

June 2012

May 2012

April 2012

March 2012

February 2012

January 2012

Print this page