Multiple Sclerosis and the Risk for PTSD

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There is a definite correlation between having multiple sclerosis (MS) and facing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Experiencing a life-threatening illness or severe medical condition such as MS is one type of event that might place a person at risk for developing PTSD.

Why Being Diagnosed With MS Can Cause PTSD

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease of the nervous system. It's believed to be an autoimmune disease, which means your body's own immune system attacks cells in your brain and spinal cord. There are numerous symptoms of MS ranging from mild, including numbness in your limbs, to severe, such as paralysis or complete loss of vision. The symptoms of MS, their severity, and their progression vary from person to person.

Being diagnosed with MS can be considered a traumatic event. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines a traumatic event as a situation where you have experienced, witnessed, or have been confronted with an event where there was the threat of or actual death or serious injury. The event may also have involved a threat to your physical well-being or the physical well-being of another person. Without a doubt, MS meets these criteria. It has a major impact on a person's body and life. Further, because it's unexpected, both in being diagnosed and in how it progresses, you may initially experience a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Given this, being diagnosed with MS may place you at risk for the development of PTSD.


Developing PTSD following a diagnosis of MS is a serious issue. PTSD can interfere greatly with many areas of a person's life. However, developing PTSD in response to MS can be particularly troubling. PTSD symptoms can negatively affect your physical health and place greater stress on your body, further increasing your risk for future health problems. PTSD may also contribute to the development of unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking or substance use, which can increase your risk for MS symptom relapses. In addition, high levels of stress can trigger the occurrence of MS symptoms.

The unpredictable and uncertain nature of MS may also lead to other anxiety-related symptoms besides PTSD. For example, you may develop severe worry about future MS relapses, which can make PTSD symptoms worse. You may also develop depression.

Studies on MS and PTSD

Only three studies have been conducted on the prevalence of PTSD in patients with MS; however, what has been done shows a relationship between the two. In one fairly old study, a group of researchers looked at the symptoms of PTSD among 58 MS patients, most with relapsing-remitting or secondary progressive MS. They found that 16 percent met criteria for PTSD, a rate higher than that found in the general population. People with PTSD were also more likely to be depressed.

Another study of 232 patients with MS showed that more than 5 percent were diagnosed with PTSD. Anxiety, depression, and levels of education factored into the presence of PTSD. This percentage is higher than that found in the general population as well, which is about 3.6 percent of adults.

In another study, 126 people with MS were asked questions about their PTSD symptoms. They found that the level of disability experienced as a result of MS was a predictor of how strong someone's PTSD symptoms were. Together, these studies show that MS and PTSD are related and whether or not someone develops PTSD may be dependent on the severity of a person's MS.

New Study Shows Specialized Treatment Can Help

A 2016 study on using eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and relaxation therapy on patients with MS who have been diagnosed with PTSD shows promise. Most of the patients included in the study were able to overcome their PTSD with 10 treatments. EMDR was shown to be more effective than relaxation therapy, but both help with anxiety, depression, and the severity of PTSD.

Getting Help For Your PTSD

To learn more about MS and how to cope, you can visit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. This website has excellent tips for coping with MS, with many strategies for topics like exercise, stress management, and improving your diet, that can also be helpful for PTSD symptoms. If you have been diagnosed with MS and have begun to experience symptoms of PTSD, it's very important to seek help. There are a number of effective treatments for PTSD. In addressing your PTSD through treatment, you may notice that other areas of your life, such as your physical health, are more easily managed.

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