Health & Lifestyle

Neurologists discover first ‘warning signs’ of MS that strike up to five years before patients are diagnosed… and they’re not tell-tale symptoms

  • Scientists say common ailments could be the first signs of multiple sclerosis
  • People diagnosed with MS more likely to have depression, constipation and UTIs

Constipation may be an early warning sign of multiple sclerosis (MS), researchers claimed today.

Neurologists also believe UTIs, bladder infections, depression and sexual problems could potentially indicate that someone is unknowingly suffering with the cruel condition.

A study revealed the five ailments struck MS patients up to five years before they were eventually diagnosed.

Dr Celine Louapre, who is based Sorbonne University in Paris, said: ‘Of course, not everyone who has these symptoms will go on to develop MS.’

She added that all four are ‘common’ and ‘could also be signs of other diseases’.

More than 130,000 people in the UK are estimated to have MS, with nearly 7,000 diagnosed every year. Symptoms include fatigue, difficulty walking, vision problems, difficulties controlling the bladder, numbness and tingling in parts of the body and problems with balance (stock photo)

More than 130,000 people in the UK are estimated to have MS, with nearly 7,000 diagnosed every year. Symptoms include fatigue, difficulty walking, vision problems, difficulties controlling the bladder, numbness and tingling in parts of the body and problems with balance (stock photo)

A study revealed the five ailments struck MS patients up to five years before they were eventually diagnosed (Stock Image)

A study revealed the five ailments struck MS patients up to five years before they were eventually diagnosed (Stock Image)

However, Dr Louapre said the information may prove helpful for people at high-risk of getting MS, such as anyone with a family history. 

Typical symptoms of the condition include difficulties walking, vision problem and numbness.

But they can be extremely vague and crossover with other minor ailments.

Although lesser-known, bowel issues like constipation and bladder issues such as UTIs are already recognised as symptoms of MS. So too are depression and sexual problems.

Yet patients are usually struck down with eye problems and trouble walking first. 

What is multiple sclerosis (MS)?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a lifelong condition that affects the brain and spinal cord.

It is caused by something going wrong with the immune system which causes it to mistakenly attack the brain or spinal cord.

Specifically, it targets the protective layer of protein and fatty acids that protects the nerves that carry signals from the brain, called the myelin sheath.

The myelin sheath becomes damaged and scarred, so brain signals, like those to the muscles which are needed to walk, become disrupted and slowed.

Symptoms include fatigue, difficulty walking, vision problems, difficulties controlling the bladder, numbness and tingling in parts of the body and problems with balance.

There is no cure but treatments can control the condition and ease symptoms, such as steroid medication.

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Because of the unpredictability of symptoms, it can take patients years to be diagnosed with the auto-immune condition.

MS is caused by something going wrong with the immune system which causes it to mistakenly attack the brain or spinal cord.

Specifically, it targets the protective layer of protein and fatty acids that protects the nerves that carry signals from the brain, called the myelin sheath.

The myelin sheath becomes damaged and scarred, so brain signals, like those to the muscles which are needed to walk, become disrupted and slowed.

Figures suggest around 130,000 Brits and 1million Americans have MS.

There is no cure but treatments can control the condition and ease symptoms, such as steroid medication.

Researchers looked at data of 20,000 patients in the UK and France who were newly diagnosed with MS.

They compared each’s medical history with three people who matched their age and sex but did not have the condition. 

The team then logged which patients suffered from an array of 113 diseases and symptoms in the five years before and after their MS diagnosis. 

Results, published in the journal Neurology, show that MS patients were 22 per cent more likely to have depression in the five years before their condition was confirmed, compared to those who did not have MS.

The group were also 50 per cent more likely to have constipation, while the risk of UTIs (38 per cent), sexual problems (37 per cent) and bladder infections (21 per cent) were also higher. 

Next, the researchers compared these ailments among people with MS to people with Crohn’s disease and lupus — other autoimmune conditions.

The five possible symptoms were also more common among these patients in the five years pre-diagnosis compared to the general population — meaning they ‘lack specificity to MS’. 

Experts said it ‘remains unclear’ whether the ailments are ‘risk factors for MS’ or ‘nonspecific early MS symptoms’. 

However, they hope these ‘early signs’ can help scientists to understand the biological mechanisms that occur in the body of MS patients before ‘actual symptoms of the disease develop’.


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