Mom's Story

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How Common Is It To Have MS With Other Medical Conditions? First Results from the MS “Comorbidities” Project

Unfair as it seems, MS doesn’t keep other disorders away. It’s possible to have MS and “something else” at the same time. A new international initiative is being launched to understand how common it is for people with MS to have other conditions and how these other conditions may impact the course and treatment of an individual’s MS. The first stage of this project is now published, in preparation for an international scientific workshop jointly supported by the National MS Society and the European Committee for Treatment and Research in MS (ECTRIMS) to focus attention on comorbidities and determining next steps to finding solutions for people with MS.
Background: In scientific terms, having two chronic medical conditions at once is called “comorbidity.” There is growing recognition that comorbidities may complicate the diagnosis of MS and also influence disease progression, as well as an individual’s wellness and quality of life. In addition MS some other disorders may have risk factors in common. For these reasons, the MS Comorbidities Project is seeking to characterize the types and frequencies of comorbidities in MS in advance of a scientific meeting to map out next steps for research strategies to address this gap area. This project is being undertaken by the International Advisory Committee on Clinical Trials in MS, a committee comprised of international leaders in MS research and clinical care that is jointly supported by the National MS Society and ECTRIMS.
The first phase of this project was a systematic review of existing published studies related to specific medical conditions in people who have MS. Ruth Ann Marrie, MD, PhD (University of Manitoba) and colleagues* in Denmark, Italy and the U.S., now report their findings in seven papers published in the MS Journal. (Read overview and companion papers; no subscription is needed.) The review was supported in part by the National MS Society (U.S.A.) and a Don Paty Career Development Award from the MS Society of Canada.
Review Results: The authors identified more than 7,000 studies on a variety of comorbidities and MS, and narrowed these down, completing a full-text review of 249 studies that were conducted between 1905 and 2012. Most were conducted in North America or Europe, leading the authors to comment that little is known about comorbidities that occur with MS in Central or South America, Asia, or Africa. In addition, the quality and design of the studies were so variable that it was difficult to compare results. Nevertheless, their extensive research yielded these highlights, among many others:
• The five most prevalent disorders occurring alongside MS were depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and chronic lung disease.
• The most prevalent autoimmune diseases occurring with MS were thyroid disease and psoriasis.
• The types of cancer that occurred most often in people with MS were cervical, breast, and digestive system cancers. There appeared to be a higher than expected risk of meningiomas and urinary system cancers, and a lower than expected risk of pancreatic, ovarian, prostate and testicular cancer, compared to the general population.
• Some disorders were found more often than expected by the investigators based on previous research, such as heart disease, congestive heart failure, stroke, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, seizure disorders, bipolar disorder, sleep disorders, and alcohol abuse.
Comment: The authors suggest that further work is necessary to develop data sources that examine MS comorbidities worldwide, and that are specific to individuals of different ages, genders, and ethnicities. They also conclude that efforts should be coordinated so that methodologies are similar and results can be compared.
To this end, the Society and ECTRIMS are convening a workshop that will move this research forward. The International Advisory Committee on Clinical Trials in MS and other experts in MS research will meet in spring 2015 to discuss next research steps, such as available data that may facilitate further research and which comorbidities demand more immediate focus.

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