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The Relationship Between Multiple Sclerosis and Anxiety

Daniel Sher, MA, Clin Psychology
The Relationship Between Multiple Sclerosis and Anxiety

Most anxiety is not caused by medical problems. Anxiety is a mental health issue, and it's often created through a combination of life experiences, coping ability, and genetics. But in some cases, anxiety can be linked to a medical issue, such as multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a terrifying disease. While generally rare (1 in every 1,000 women, and 1 in every 3,000 men), the illness can cause a host of problems, including anxiety. 

Get a Better Understanding of Your Anxiety

Peoples’ experience of MS varies widely. The scleroses can affect any part of the brain, and that means that some people may have generalized anxiety, others may have panic disorder, and more. 

Never Self-Diagnose MS From Anxiety

There is one tip that you always need to keep in mind - that you should never self-diagnose MS, especially if you have anxiety. Unfortunately, anxiety causes many of the same symptoms as the early stages of MS. MS is one of the health issues that comes up most when those with anxiety search for their symptoms online, and millions of those with anxiety convince themselves that they might have MS.

So if you haven't yet been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and you came to this page hoping for some way to tell the difference between MS and anxiety, it's far better to assume you have anxiety and simply talk to your doctor about multiple sclerosis. However, it’s also important that you have regular check-ups with a doctor to maintain general health, which will also help put your mind at ease.

How MS is Linked to Anxiety

Multiple sclerosis can trigger anxiety within the brain itself. But the actual reason that MS tends to do this is simply because the disease is scary, which may lead to problematic thinking patterns and negative emotions. Many of those with MS have frightening symptoms and recurrent, relapsing, progressively worse MS. 

That's something very important to keep in mind. Developing anxiety is normal with MS simply because MS is a frightening disease. Anxiety is a response to danger, and MS makes that anxiety warranted, which makes it harder to control.

However, MS can also cause anxiety and depression as a result of the illness itself. MS is linked to inflammation in various parts of the brain, and when the brain experiences damage and stress, it's not uncommon for a person to experience anxiety. Depending on where the inflammation occurs, it may also provoke panic attacks as well. 

In addition, the symptoms of MS can be triggers for those that already have anxiety. Panic disorder is a pertinent example. Many people with panic disorder have panic attacks as result of changes in their body's sensations, and MS can cause changes in sensations that trigger panic attacks. While MS isn't technically causing the panic attacks directly, it's creating an environment that makes them far more likely.

All of these are the reasons that anxiety is a common condition for those with MS.

How to Stop MS Anxiety

While you should talk to your doctor about ways to control your own personal multiple sclerosis anxiety, it's not a bad idea to consider treating it like its own condition. Remember, most anxiety is caused by fear as a result of the disorder (i.e. indirectly), not literally by the lesions in the brain (i.e. directly). Furthermore, even when MS causes anxiety directly, your own coping ability can still contain that anxiety so that it doesn't affect you as much.

Experts recommend the following to deal with MS-related anxiety:

Article Resources
  1. Zorzon, Marino, et al. Depression and anxiety in multiple sclerosis.A clinical and MRI study in 95 subjects. Journal of neurology 248.5 (2001): 416-421.
  2. Korostil, M., and A. Feinstein. Anxiety disorders and their clinical correlates in multiple sclerosis patients. Multiple Sclerosis 13.1 (2007): 67-72.
  3. Beiske, A. G., et al. Depression and anxiety amongst multiple sclerosis patients. European Journal of Neurology 15.3 (2008): 239-245.
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