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Managing the Emotional Side of Multiple Sclerosis

May 3, 2017

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is known as a physical condition, one that injures nerves and results in symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, trouble walking, bladder problems or vision loss. However, there is another side to MS that many people may not know about. MS had a profound, lifelong emotional component that includes mood swings, anxiety, and depression. In MS, the immune system attacks the coating of the nerves, called myelin, as well as the nerve fibers. Damage can occur along the spinal cord and optic nerves, and in the brain. Dr. Peter Arnett, a professor of psychology at Penn State University, says the interruption of nerve signals causes the neurons to misfire, which may lead to irritability and mood swings.

MS is associated with anxiety disorders and clinical depression. Anxiety disorders are characterized by obsessive worrying or fear that doesn’t go away. Clinical depression includes persistent feelings of hopelessness or sadness that last for more than two weeks. However, it’s unclear why and when depression develops in people with MS. Arnett explains, “It depends on the location of the lesions and the amount of brain atrophy (shrinkage) and disruption of pathways in the brain. That explains about 40 percent of depression in MS.”

Dr. Christopher Stewart, a neuropsychologist and professor at Rush University Medical Center, has noticed that people begin coping with MS before it’s even diagnosed. Undiagnosed patients will undergo feelings of anxiety or depression, and not understanding the underlying cause. While it can be a relief to finally get a diagnosis, it can also be difficult for the patients to come to terms with the chronic condition. However, there are tools to cope with the emotional side of MS. See coping methods here.