Symptoms of MS can show years before disease itself

For once, I am pleased to know that I am not alone. Researchers in Canada report that people with multiple sclerosis can show symptoms of something wrong five years before disease onset. This is much earlier than previously thought, but just not as early as my own experience.

Let me explain. My first indication that all was not well was in the mid-1980s and doctors were concerned enough to order a lumbar puncture (spinal tap). However, for whatever reason, the result was negative. Doctors said don’t worry, it’s nothing serious.

Almost 20 years later, following further symptoms and new concerns of mine, I had more tests.  These showed I had MS, and the neurologist told me that he had gone through my medical records and found evidence of MS more than 25 years earlier. So, it looks like the 1980s’ lumbar puncture was a false negative.

The Canadian research, published in Lancet Neurology, and reviewed by Science Daily, is a first step toward identifying red flags. These should help doctors screen for the disease and start interventions earlier.


Dr Helen Tremlett of the University of British Columbia.

“Proving that people with multiple sclerosis have already changed their behaviour in the five years before even the earliest medical recognition of the condition is very important. It means we have to look beyond those five years to understand how it is caused,” said Dr Helen Tremlett. She is senior author of the study and an associate professor for neurology in the department of medicine at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health.

Symptoms well before MS recognized

The researchers examined health records of 14,000 people with multiple sclerosis over a 20-year period and compared them to the health records of 72,000 people without the disease. This study showed there is a phase where people show symptoms before multiple sclerosis is medically recognized.

“There’s something going on here that makes this population of people unique,” said José Wijnands, first author of the manuscript. He is a postdoctoral fellow and a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research trainee.

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* * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Features Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.