New research from Dr. Helen Tremlett’s Pharmacoepidemiology in Multiple Sclerosis Research Group suggests that for people with multiple sclerosis (MS), the presence of psychiatric comorbidities including depression, anxiety and mood disorders was associated with disability progression.

Comorbidities are defined as multiple co-existing chronic diseases or conditions. People with MS have an elevated risk of comorbidities—including cardiovascular disorders, migraine, and mood disorders—relative to the general population.

The team was led by Dr. Ruth Ann Marrie at the University of Manitoba, and included first author Dr. Kyla McKay, who was a PhD trainee in Tremlett’s lab. They looked at clinical and population-based health administrative data from British Columbia and Nova Scotia and found that more than 35 per cent of adults with MS had a mood or anxiety disorder.

The findings were published this week in the journal Neurology, and also demonstrated an association between the presence of mental health conditions and higher disability progression.

“These findings provide insights into the potential relationship between common mental health conditions in MS and disease progression,” says Dr. Helen Tremlett. “Moving forward, it would be of real value to evaluate whether optimizing psychiatric comorbidity management could actually slow disability progression in MS.”

This research builds on earlier studies that showed a link between comorbidities and MS relapse risk as well as physical comorbidities and MS disease progression.

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). Dr Tremlett is the Canada Research Chair in Neuroepidemiology and Multiple Sclerosis. Dr. Marrie holds the Waugh Family Chair in Multiple Sclerosis. Dr. McKay is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Karolinska Institute, Sweden.

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