Depression and multiple sclerosis (MS) tend to travel together, new research finds, and when they do the chances of dying during the next decade can be up to five times greater than it is for those with neither condition.
Exactly why the combination is so lethal is not fully understood, but several factors may be at play, study author Dr. Raffaele Palladino, a research associate at Imperial College London explains. For starters, depression is associated with inflammation and other brain changes that increase stroke risk.
“People with psychiatric disorders may not have their cardiovascular risk factors managed as well, and depression is associated with poorer health behaviors [diet, physical activity] which can negatively affect MS as well as other aspects of health,” Palladino says.
Affecting nearly 1 million people in the United States, MS occurs when the immune system misfires against the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Symptoms range from mild to severe and may include numbness, fatigue, bladder issues, walking difficulties, and problems with thinking and memory. Twenty percent of people with MS also experience depression, Palladino shares.
For the study, researchers reviewed the medical records of nearly 85,000 people with and without MS. They tracked who developed vascular disease or died over a 10-year period. At the start of the study, 21% of the people with MS were depressed, as were 9% of those folks without MS.
People with MS and depression were more than five times as likely to die of any cause during the next decade when compared to people with neither condition after researchers controlled for other factors that could affect the risk of dying such as smoking and diabetes.
People with both conditions were also more than three times as likely to develop the vascular disease as folks with neither condition, the study shows.
Having either a history of MS or depression also affects the risk of dying during the next 10 years. Folks with MS without depression were nearly four times more likely to die than people with neither condition, and people with depression without MS were nearly twice as likely to die, according to the study.
It’s too early to say whether treating depression in people with MS will