Identifying prodromal signs of multiple sclerosis: a multi-centre approach

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurodegenerative disease for which there is no known cure. It is among the most common causes of neurological disability in young adults in the Western world and affects approximately 2.3 million people worldwide, including an estimated 75,000 Canadians. The symptoms of MS and related morbidity have a major impact on quality of life: weakness, fatigue, disability and depression can all influence social, family and work life.

Some intriguing preliminary findings from one study based in Manitoba indicated that people with MS had more medical consultations than people without MS, even throughout the five-year period prior to MS onset. This implies that the disease already starts to develop long before the currently recognized clinical onset of MS. However, these findings have yet to be replicated and it remains unknown as to what the reason(s) were behind the measurable increases in medical consultations.

The aim of this project is to search for early signs and symptoms that could facilitate more timely recognition of MS and to narrow down the relevant time window when searching for factors triggering MS.

I will examine databases of medical records from people with MS in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia. I will explore their physician and hospital visits before MS onset and before MS diagnosis, and I will compare this data to medical information from the general population. I will also examine the reason(s) for the physician and hospital visits.

I hypothesize that among people who go on to develop MS, I will identify specific associated “disorders” that drive the elevated health service utilization before MS onset.

I will help the research team share the findings directly with BC provincial decision makers via one-on-one meetings and presentations. Connections with patient advocate groups will enable me to also raise awareness of the results among people with MS.

Ultimately, the results of this study could contribute towards an earlier recognition of MS.