Chronic conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, high BP, or high cholesterol, seem to delay multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnoses, Canadian researchers report.

“Pre-existing disease may mask symptoms of a new disease or prevent the consideration of other etiologies for new signs and symptoms,” comments lead author Ruth Ann Marrie, MD, PhD, of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. “Our study suggests that doctors who treat people with chronic diseases should not attribute new neurological symptoms, such as numbness and tingling, to existing conditions without careful consideration.”

Dr. Marrie’s team examined records of nearly 9,000 MS patients (Neurology. 2009;72:117-124). Diagnostic delays from the onset of symptoms ranged from one to 10 years, with a mean of 7.03 years.

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In a progressive disease like MS, delays often mean more severe illness. Researchers focused on a subgroup that enrolled in the project within two years of diagnosis. Among this group, “people with vascular problems or who were obese were about 1.5 times more likely to be moderately disabled when they were diagnosed (odds ratios 1.51 and 1.38, respectively) compared with those who had MS but no heart or weight problems,” Dr. Marrie notes.

The study was partially funded by the NIH.