Researchers hope the results of a new study will aid doctors in better supporting patients with multiple sclerosis. The study, published this week in Multiple Sclerosis Journal, tracked over 900 patients from four Canadian provinces over two years and found that during this time more than 50 percent were anxious, and over 35 percent were depressed. The study aimed to understand the effects lifestyle habits such as smoking and alcohol abuse on depression and anxiety.

“People who identified as smokers or as reliant on alcohol were more likely to be depressed or anxious,” says PhD candidate Kyla McKay, the study’s lead author and member of Dr. Helen Tremlett’s MS research team at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health. “We hope that highlighting this issue will result in more support for patients with MS, especially those at risk for these conditions.”

Depression and anxiety are common in people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and are associated with decreased quality of life. Unhealthy behaviours such as smoking and alcohol abuse are associated with an increased risk of developing MS, as well as a faster disease progression.

This is one of the first longitudinal studies to show that unhealthy lifestyle choices can also exacerbate mental illness in people with MS. The study found a cyclical relationship between alcohol (in particular) and depression; alcohol dependence increased the risk of developing depression, while depression in turn increased the risk for alcohol dependence.

“Prevention or reduction of the severity of these mental health issues is essential,” says McKay. “For healthcare providers, encouraging patients who have MS to quit smoking and avoid excessive alcohol could be a step in the right direction.”

The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Rx&D Health Research Foundation (PI: Ruth Ann Marrie, University of Manitoba; co-PI Helen Tremlett, University of British Columbia) Kyla McKay received funding from the MS Society of Canada.


McKay KA, Tremlett H, Fisk JD, Patten SB, Fiest K, Berrigan L, Marrie RA; CIHR Team in the Epidemiology and Impact of Comorbidity on Multiple Sclerosis (ECoMS). Adverse health behaviours are associated with depression and anxiety in multiple sclerosis: A prospective multisite study. Mult Scler. 2015 Aug 5. pii: 1352458515599073. [Epub ahead of print]