Anxiety is a common symptom of multiple sclerosis (MS). Learn more about the link between MS and anxiety, and find out how to get help. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic neurological condition characterized by widespread lesions in the brain and spinal cord. It's caused by the immune system attacking nerve fibers and the protective layer of nerves called the myelin sheath. MS can
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic neurological condition characterized by widespread lesions in the brain and spinal cord. It's caused by the immune system attacking nerve fibers and the protective layer of nerves called the myelin sheath. MS can involve a range of symptoms, including mobility limitations, pain, fatigue, and cognitive difficulties.
People with MS can also experience mental health symptoms, depression, and anxiety. This may be related to neuroinflammation and is thought to be heavily influenced by the uncertain nature of the condition. The anxiety may also be due to the neurological changes that occur with MS.
Read on to learn about how MS can lead to anxiety and how to cope.
It's common for people with MS to experience symptoms of anxiety or have anxiety disorders.
The exact prevalence of people with MS experiencing anxiety symptoms varies among studies, but it is believed to be between 34% and 43%. This is much higher than the estimated prevalence of about 18% in the U.S. population overall.
Despite the high occurrence, anxiety in people with MS remains understudied.
There is some evidence that anxiety may be related to neuroinflammation and deficits in frontal lobe functioning (including attention, problem-solving, and memory retrieval) that occur with MS. Research also suggests that it may be due to living with the unpredictability of MS rather than the physical disease process.
MS symptoms and progression can vary. Concern about the potential seriousness of symptoms and outcome of future episodes may contribute to severe and/or prolonged anxiety in people with MS. Research suggests that anxiety tends to be higher at the onset of the condition.
Increased anxiety in people with MS is also associated with:
Demyelination (damage to the protective covering surrounding nerve cells), damage to nerve fibers, and some of the medications used to treat MS (such as corticosteroids) may also contribute to emotional changes and anxiety in people with MS.
Left untreated, anxiety in people with MS can lead to:
Anxiety can have both physiological and psychological symptoms.
Physiological symptoms may include:
Psychological symptoms include:
Anxiety symptoms can overlap with MS symptoms. Talk with your healthcare provider about all of your symptoms to get an overall picture of what you are experiencing.
Anxiety with MS can be managed with professional treatment and coping strategies.
For some, medication may be beneficial. Options include:
Working with a mental health professional can help a person with MS learn to manage their anxiety symptoms.
Some strategies include:
Practicing mindfulness techniques and exercises, whether led by a professional or on your own, may help with anxiety.
Physical exercise and being mobile to the best of your ability may help improve anxiety symptoms. Practicing yoga is a great way to combine physical activity with mindfulness.
Increased social support—including emotional, technical, and informational support—from people such as family members, friends, coworkers, healthcare professionals, and other people with MS has been shown to help mitigate the impact of anxiety and depression.
Identifying anxiety early can make a big difference in treating and living with the condition. If you notice signs of anxiety, don't wait to talk to your healthcare provider.
Finding the help that works best for you is important. You can start by talking to your healthcare provider. They can help you find resources and make a referral to a specialist or mental health professional if necessary.
The format with which you receive help is also important. In-person sessions are an option, but remote therapy is also a promising choice, especially if access is an issue.
When looking for a therapist or other professional to help with your anxiety, it can help to have some questions prepared ahead of time. For example:
It is common for people with MS to experience symptoms of anxiety or anxiety disorders. This may be due to neuroinflammation as a result of MS, or the psychological stress that comes with being diagnosed with a chronic condition. Left untreated, this anxiety can affect functioning and quality of life.
Treatments like medication, therapy, and mindfulness exercises can help with anxiety management. Physical activity, such as yoga, and increased social support can also provide benefits.
While looking after your physical health with MS, it's just as important to care for your mental health. If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional about what you're feeling. Anxiety can be treated and managed alongside MS.
If left untreated, anxiety can negatively affect many areas of your health, including MS symptoms.
Neuroinflammation (an inflammatory response within the brain or spinal cord) plays a role in the presence of anxiety with MS. Anxiety can also be the result of being diagnosed with a life-changing condition like MS.