March 3, 2016 | News | Living with MS

Other health conditions are common in MS

A recent international survey of people with multiple sclerosis found that a majority are also suffering from another illness or medical condition (Marck and colleagues. PLoS One 2016;11:e0148573).

The Health Outcomes and Lifestyle Interventions in MS (HOLISM) survey recruited people via social media and a total of 2,399 people completed the questionnaire. Most respondents were women (82%), which is consistent with MS being more common in women, and the average age was 45-46 years. About 62% had relapsing-remitting MS and had been living with MS for a median of six years.  About 44% had some degree of physical impairment.

Overall, 67% reported that they were living with at least one other medical condition. The most common were back pain (36%), depression (32%), anxiety (29%), and arthritis (14%). These conditions also had the biggest impact on people’s daily activities.

Another problem that the survey identified was obesity. Although most people were at a healthy weight, about 1 in 4 respondents were overweight, and a further 1 in 5 were obese. Obesity was defined as a body-mass index (BMI) of 30 or more (e.g. a woman with height 165 cm [5-foot 5 inches] and weighing 82 kg [180 pounds]) (to calculate your BMI go to

Obesity is a risk factor for a variety of health problems, so it was no surprise that obese people were much more likely to have other medical problems. The obese were twice as likely to suffer from back pain, arthritis, heart disease and depression, three times more likely to have ulcers or stomach disease, four-fold more likely to have high blood pressure, and five-fold more likely to have liver disease. However, the researchers noted that the associations were likely to work both ways: for example, people who are obese may develop back problems, but people with back problems may have difficulty being physically active and may gain weight as a result. Current and former smokers were also more likely to have other medical issues.

The survey also found an association between the number of other medical conditions and MS relapses. The risk of having a relapse was 68% higher for those with one medical condition, and almost three-fold higher for people with three other conditions.

The survey results underscore the importance of not neglecting your overall health. Having MS doesn’t mean that you won’t develop other medical problems, so it’s essential to continue seeing the family doctor every year for a check-up and to treat non-MS-related medical conditions. Regular exercise, tailored to a person’s level of ability and circumstances, can also help to control weight gain, improve physical functioning, and boost your mood.

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