Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of MS, with studies showing anywhere from 52% up to 90% of people with MS experiencing it. Most people with MS experiencing fatigue describe it as one of their top three most troublesome symptoms. Defined by the feeling of prolonged lack of physical and/or mental energy, fatigue can lead to significantly reduced quality of life in people with MS. Furthermore, the MS Research Australia supported Australian MS Longitudinal Study has previously demonstrated that fatigue is the most frequently listed symptom contributing to the loss of employment for people with MS.
While it is known that fatigue is more prevalent in progressive forms of MS, little is known of its relationship with clinical features of MS such as disability, anxiety, depression, cognition and sleep quality, and other demographic factors such as gender, age and disease duration.
A recently published study led by Dr Scott Rooney and his colleagues at the Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland explored these relationships in both progressive and non-progressive forms of MS.
The study used an online survey to collect information internationally from approximately 500 people with MS with the help of MS organisations in the US, UK and Australia, including MS Research Australia, which resulted in 17% of respondents being Australian.
Most (82%) of respondents were female, with an average age of 46, and were on average 9.6 years post-diagnosis. In this study, people with progressive MS were much older than the reported average age, had the disease longer, and reported higher levels of disability and unemployment compared to participants with non-progressive MS.
The results showed that 70% of people with MS in this study experienced fatigue, which fell within the range reported in other published studies, confirming that fatigue is a common symptom of MS. A higher proportion of participants with progressive MS (81%) reported fatigue compared to those with non-progressive forms of MS (64%), which is also consistent with past publications. However, most importantly, this study showed for the first time that fatigue is linked with higher levels of disability, greater levels of depression and anxiety, and poorer cognitive function and sleep in people with MS. These results were comparable for both people with progressive and non-progressive MS.
Studies like these are great contributors towards improving our understanding of the factors influencing fatigue and how fatigue can influence other symptoms of MS. Experts rely on information of this sort to help them develop carefully targeted interventions to better help people with MS manage their fatigue.
With such a huge impact on quality of life, fatigue is an important area of research. Some ongoing research in this area funded by MS Research Australia includes:
Previously funded studies include: