Invisible Symptoms of MS: Mood Swings

Invisible Symptoms of MS: Mood Swings

Like many with multiple sclerosis, I have my fair share of problems with walking, spasms, pain, and fatigue. Some of my worst symptoms though, are not physical in nature and fall under the category of emotional and cognitive deficits. I’m going to start off what will hopefully be a whole series covering these unseen and often misunderstood symptoms by talking about mood swings. For those with MS, the frequent and almost instant changing of moods is a symptom that no doubt has a profound effect on many relationships. It is a terrible symptom that many don’t even realize is related to their MS. While these constant emotional changes can be hurtful to those we care about the most, they can also be horrifying for us. There are, however, some ways we can battle this invisible symptom.

So what are these mood swings I’m talking about? I think of it as a rapid change in thought and emotion that seems to come on instantly. I can go from super happy to super depressed in the blink of an eye! The worst part of this is that it can seem like there is no reason for it all. Other times, the smallest of things, a commercial, a song, even seeing a certain color, can trigger it. It’s not only a matter of being happy and then depressed, pretty much any set of emotions can pop up. Anger, of course, is one of the scarier and more destructive ones. It’s also not always a positive emotion to a negative one, in can be in reverse too. I’m sure I seem awful when I suddenly get angry about something, anything, and everything, but I probably look just as crazy when I go from very angry to super happy and loving the world. The emotions really are all over the place.

Mood swings are a symptom that many people don’t realize can be attributed to MS. I’ve gotten the question many times from upset and frustrated people who finally start to wonder if their rapid and sometimes constant emotional changes are actually MS-related. It seems that this is another area where people don’t stop to think it could be their disease at work. You can have MS lesions in the area that controls your emotions the same way you can have them in areas that affect your arms or legs. There are two parts of the brain associated with emotions, one where they are formed and one where they are controlled. A lesion in either area can affect your mood swings or even cause pseudobulbar affect (PBA), where you laugh or cry suddenly with seemingly no trigger at all. You can also have your emotional responses scrambled, so you may cry when you really want to laugh and vice versa.

External factors can also lead to mood swings. Living with multiple sclerosis can cause a tremendous amount of pent up frustration, stress, anxiety, pain, and depression. It can be very hard to explain to others what it’s like going to bed each night not knowing if you will be able to walk in the morning. Not to mention the fact that many people lose their employment and even mobility due to the disease. Sometimes, no matter how happy a face you put on, there are still lingering concerns in the back of your mind, whether you realize it or not. If you don’t confront these thoughts, they can bubble to the surface at inappropriate times.

Whether they are caused by the disease itself or the effects of having the disease, sudden mood swings can be a living hell. It’s bad enough that many of us are in pain much of the time, but sudden mood swings have the awful effect of causing pain in the ones we love. I know I personally have had many relationships ruined by the sudden outburst of emotion caused by my mood swings. The worst part of that for me, is that when I have these outbursts, I know that it’s not me. That’s not the real me that’s angry or sad. It just happens and I end up feeling tremendous regret at the ways I’ve acted or about the things I’ve said. You begin to feel like a bad person. I know that it makes people think of me as being a different person then I really am. That would take a toll on anyone.

Like most multiple sclerosis symptoms, the level of severity can vary greatly from person to person, and even day to day for a particular person. I have days where I feel fine and notice no differences. I have others where I’m sure it seems I’m near bipolar. All of the normal MS triggers, like stress, temperature, humidity, and fatigue can play into the variance, frequency, and severity of my mood swings.

So what can we do? Well, first off, if you are experiencing mood swings, you should mention it to your neurologist. I also think it’s important to talk to your family and friends about it. You may not even realize that you are having mood swings. In my case, I talk with my wife about everything. That doesn’t always make it easier, but just being mindful that it’s an issue has seemed to help me (at least some of the time). It’s not using it as an excuse, it’s informing people. It’s ok to say “hey, I have this problem related to my MS.” It may sound like a convenient excuse to them, but that’s when you have the opportunity to share information with them and to show them that this is a real issue. It’s also important to consider talking to a mental health professional. They can help provide you with strategies on coping with your emotional issues. With everything on our plate, whether you have mood swings or not, just in general, it can be sound advice to talk to one about your MS.

The one goal I had with this article was to bring up just one of the many invisible symptoms those of us with multiple sclerosis may deal with. I feel that symptoms like mood swings are not spoken about enough. There are many aspects of the disease that are not well understood by some neurologists, let alone the general public. So if anything, I hope to trigger conversation and the sharing of information about these issues. If we work together, as a community, to talk about and share our issues and ways to combat them, we can beat this disease!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (37)
  • jonesmr160
    4 days ago

    Thank you so much for this article. I do not have MS myself, but my boyfriend of 7 months does. I entered into the relationship knowing he has it, but not knowing what to expect. He is truly my hero. Learning about this has been a daily education for me and I knew that it would be going in to the relationship. I recently moved in with him and his teenage kids and I’ve seen first hand how daily life can often be a challenge for him. I’ve tried to lighten the burden on him as much as I can without offending or stepping on toes. Over the past month, twice he has gone into an angry fit of rage, turned on a dime, shouting insults at me and his children, banging on walls, throwing things, and there’s no way to try and make him stop until he’s ready to. And these fits seemingly come from the smallest thing…last night was one of those such rages. Last night into this morning I was ready to pack up and move out. Your article has changed my view of what has happened and from here on out I will try to be more understanding of what is transpiring because I KNOW full well that this just isn’t him, at all. Thank you for your perspective and for taking the time to write this article. If your symptoms are anything like his, the sheer effort of writing anything or even looking at a computer can be exhausting. I appreciate you, and I wish more folks understood what MS really is and what it means for people affected by it.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 days ago

    Thanks so much jonesmr160, mental and emotional issues are extremely common in MS, and don’t really get the recognition they deserve. The same damage to to the nerves that can affect people’s physical abilities can every bit effect out areas as well. Thanks so much for taking the time to research it some, that’s the #1 thing I think a friend or family member can do for someone with MS, to learn more about the disease.

  • Lilred59
    1 month ago

    I can so relate to this. It helps me understand some of the things I’m dealing with. I tells me that when I see my doctor, I need to talk with her about this.

  • ShelbyComito moderator
    1 month ago

    Hi @lilred59, thank you for sharing! I’m so glad this article helped you, and I commend you for wanting to address this with your doctor to ensure you get the care you need. Thank you again for sharing and please continue to keep us posted on how you’re doing. Best wishes, Shelby, MultipleSclerosis.net Team Member

  • reneegrivera
    2 months ago

    I have not been diagnosed with MS. I have however had been diagnosed with brain lesions thought to have been brought on from a traumatic brain injury that was done to me during a domestically violent relationship. Everything in this post is me. When I become angry which is a lot, I become do enraged I feel my blood boil. I’ve also had high liver enzymes come back in blood work.
    However I have also been treated with pain medication for pain and depression, blood pressure and anxiety medication for what feels like panic attacks. And any other one medication to treat one part of this all encompassing disease. Can someone please help me to find out how I get diagnosed? Please? This is ripping our family apart. In a 42 year old female if this helps.

  • Estelle
    4 months ago

    My grown adult children do not understand the MS symptoms and think it is the way I am normally. Thank goodness my wonderful dog understands and we get along great.

  • Kym
    4 months ago

    I too, suffer from anxiety/depression and take medication for it.
    I also have horrible mood swings which I always attributed to PMS (it is worse then).
    I get fussy, agitated, sad, melancholy, high all in one day.
    Its exhausting and overwhelming.

  • Tesla
    5 months ago

    I’m no stranger to mood swings due to a hormonal balance, but MS has made them ten times worse. What I do is try to set up outlets beforehand that are appropriate. For example I have a side business, and if I’m raging all those aging accounts are paid up quick! Usually a very passive person, I have no problem telling people they are being selfish and I will never do work for them ever again if I’m not paid in 24 hours. If I’m rarely in a toxic zone I pull back. I don’t want to be in my own head, so it’s reasonable others wouldn’t want to be around me. I’ll skip the date or close my office door at work, most people pick up on it. When I feel good it has a manic giddiness to it, I use this energy for creative projects or social engagement. I do get depressed and almost suicidal. I listen to depressing music and try to distract myself, but it is difficult to deal with and does grind you down. I don’t want to take SSRIs and further reduce GI movement which I’ve been hospitalized for before. I haven’t figured out anything productive or positive to do with this emotion; just suffer through. 🙁

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    5 months ago

    Thanks so much Tesla for sharing you story, very much appreciated and I’m sure many people, my self included, understand exactly what you are going through.

  • Stephanie J
    1 year ago

    I’ve lived with RRMS for 23 years now and have felt the mood changes and have been told so many reasons why from different doctors. I’ve come to this conclusion, I do suffer from depression along with MS and the symptom’s of the illness cause, for me, a lot of stress from thinking about the negatives a lot. I try to be up best and positive, but we all have down days. I think I just struggle more with my emotions differently then others based on my situation. Having a good support system has helped me manage my mood changes. Being able to pick up the phone or go visit just to get stuff off my chest by someone who doesn’t judge but just listens really helps…

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    1 year ago

    Thank you Stephanie J. I completely understand your situation, I know that I fight with depression too. I feel there is a lot of value in recognizing that, even if it doesn’t make it any easier. I’m happy to hear you have a support system and know you aren’t alone. This is something so many of us deal with. Sadly, there are many that still feel embarrassed discussing it or seeking help for it. Thanks so much for sharing, I appreciate it. Would love if you checked out my article on depression as well: https://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/its-time-to-get-real-about-depression-and-suicide/

  • DonnaFA moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi Stepanie! Thanks so much for sharing such a personal part of your experience. Your testament can be so helpful to someone who is struggling in the moment, to know that there is help and support that can make the difference. WE are so glad that you are part of the community, and so happy to be part of your support system. -Warmly, Donna (MultipleSclerosis.net team)

  • tfs
    3 years ago

    Devin: I think this is really an important issue. You have written an excellent piece. I am very recently finished work. While I am very lucky to have financial supports with LT Disability, I think this goes hand in hand with MS and our success or lack of dealing with the daily symptoms. I think we must be advocates for ourselves with our health care. The best advice I have received regarding PProgressive MS: Keep moving.(do physio.join exercise group)Keep your mind Active.(cognitive)Your post reminds us to Get Help for Depression. Today I am going to drive 1.5 hours for a second session of Minding Your Anxiety and Depression. There are 12 people – I am likely the only one with MS. You have to learn how to catch the thoughts, change the thoughts, be committed to repeating (1) and (2). Yesterday I just went back to bed. Today is a new day and I am starting again.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I am hoping that an article like this will continue to help people consider some of the invisible symptoms like this. Mood swings, anxiety, and depression are very common for people like us and can be dangerous if ignored!

  • meissie47
    3 years ago

    Wow…I use to have these awful outburst of anger on my job and couldn’t understand why. It’s like I would just lose on control.
    I also thought being on an antidepressant would help. It helped with sadness an d anxiety but ty he outburst were still there.

    I will be asking about lesion location at my next appt.
    Thanks!

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thank you for reading!

  • D-bob
    3 years ago

    Mood swings??????

    WHAT #$$#%%%$$&***##*CKING MOOD SWINGS

  • Constance
    3 years ago

    Thanks so much for the article. Stress is a big trigger for me when you talk about mood swings. You explain it so well.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks so much for reading! Stress is pretty tough on me too, it worsens pretty much any symptom I have!

  • Janet Collette
    3 years ago

    I am so glad I found a blog about Mood Swings in MS. My husband has been diagnosed with MS for 6 yrs now. He has had 3 major episodes during the past 6 yrs where he totally checks out of reality for 3 months at a time. He becomes extremely angry and a bit delusional. He usually goes into a severe depression, hates me, and wants a divorce for 3 months straight. (Our marriage is not perfect but it is not that bad) The first 2 attacks seemed to be caused by steroid psychosis but this last one was brought on because his Psychiatrist approved him to go on Chantix for 3 months. As soon as he stopped taking the Chantix he was gone. This cause so much anger out of him we were separated for 2 months. Then suddenly after 3 months it was like he came out of a coma and came back to us. He is very afraid of what happened and has no explanation for it. Has anyone else seen severe mood swings like that which were possibly brought on by high dose steroids or other meds? We are now seeing a great counselor who told me to find an MS chatroom on this subject. We are terrified it will happen again. He now takes Acthar Gel instead of Steroids which does not give him the side effects. It is just hard to get.

  • Trilee
    9 months ago

    My husband has very similar episodes. We’ve only been married a few months but together many years. He’s had several angry outburst that last about a day. He blames me for everything, calls me names, wants a divorce, no matter what I say or do I’m wrong. Afterwards he’ll apologize but he’lll have another episode within a few weeks. I plan to talk to the Dr about it at his next visit. I guess my biggest fear is that it’s not MS related and he really hates me sometimes. But your reply hit so close to home, it gives me hope that something can be done and I’m not alone. The other symptoms I can handle. The angry moods directed at me, that hurts our relationship and my self esteem.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    9 months ago

    Thank you Trilee, I wish you luck. Even if it is the disease, there is only so much you should take, you matter too. Definitely something to talk to the doctor about though.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi, so sorry to hear of your struggles. Steroids can stop an exacerbation but can come at a pretty hefty price. I’ve had some bad side effects with them as well. They can be down right nasty. With 3 major relapses in 6 years, I’d check with a neurologist that’s an MS specialist (even seek a second opinion if you already have one) and discuss his disease modifying therapy to try to put a stop to those relapses. That said, I understand the fear you and your husband must be going through. I deal with some pretty bad mood swings myself, maybe not to the level of your husband (but they are getting worse). I don’t have a solution but I can tell you I understand and sympathize. In addition to your counselor, I really recommend talking to your neurologist about some of this because they may have a few suggestions or medications that a regular psychiatrist isn’t familiar with.

  • meissie47
    3 years ago

    Wow. I didn’t realize Ms could progress without new lesions. Does this also mean you can be in a relapse that wouldn’t show up on an MRI?

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    It’s very rare but I have read of this being the case. At times the strength of the conventional MRI may not pick up anything, but again, this is not the norm. With regards to diagnosis, the MS Society says there is actually a 5% chance that lesions may not show up, which is why other tests (such as looking at spinal fluid and evoked potentials) are often done when trying to make an initial diagnosis.

  • Lucyloo
    3 years ago

    I have been struggling increasingly with MS of late, though my diagnosis came over 20 years ago. Can so identify with column on loneliness as well as others’ reflections on introversion vs. extroversion. For self-esteem, I need to feel my life has purpose, that I can give to others rather than merely subsisting. (As many will agree, the endless chores associated with illness-management–prescription refills, doctors’ appointments, monitoring or contesting Disability status, paying or refuting bills–can become one’s entire life. It’s grim, indeed. Find I need one activity per day unrelated to MS: motivation to dress nicely and go out into the public. I have been approved as a library volunteer (leading a weekly ESL class), which leads me to feel more optimistic than usual. As a trained/credentialed ESL teacher, I feel I am retrieving my pre-disabled identity. As another writer put it, it helps not to let MS define me!

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    You are absolutely right about having at least one thing a day that’s non-MS to feel good about. It makes a huge difference. That’s so great you are going to be able to volunteer, very happy for you! That’s the kind of thing that can really make a difference for people like us. Thanks so much for reading, and commenting!

  • 10gm5qj
    3 years ago

    I enjoyed reading this article, thanks for writing. I have been struggling with bad mood swings for a while now but my doctor has, as of yet, never seen lesions in my brain, only my thoracic spine. Does anyone know if these mood swings can happen even without visible lesions?
    I have always thought it was a hormonal imbalance thing and have been trying to find a doctor who will test for this. It could be a combination I suppose, like what Debra mentioned in an earlier comment.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    I’m not specifically sure about mood swings and visible lesions, but, MS can progress without visible lesions though. While conventional MRIs can catch a lot, but not everything. There is sometimes damage to myelin at a lower level then the standard MRI can detect. Research MRIs, which have stronger magnets can sometimes be used to study such issues, though if MS has already been diagnosed, there is rarely a need to do that. Treatment would still be the same. But yea, with a lot of issues we all have, it could also be a combination of things. Thanks so much for reading and commenting too!

  • J R
    3 years ago

    Great article. I have been in denial and now since I HAVE to use a walker no matter what denial isn’t really a coping measure I can use anymore. I am a type “A” personality that works in a mostly male industry. I can get very angry that I can’t even do one thing at a time when not so long I used to ten things at a time at 110% capacity. I will think long and hard on this. Thank you very much.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks so much for reading! I used to be in denial (well, I admit, I still struggle with that) until I started using a cane, that really brought things home. I can no longer do many of the things that I use to do (I’m even on disability now, which I fought hard against). These days I try to think of it as a challenge to do things differently and to do new things and I fight the urge to think about it in a negative tone. Easier said then done though. Good luck to you!

  • Banksider
    3 years ago

    I so identify with this. Took me many years to realise what was happening and how to avoid it as far as possible. Have many long-suffering friends and colleagues! Now my wife and I work with my MS to make sure the physical and emotional environment is as stress-free as we can because we both know how irrational I can become when stress levels are too great. I’m currently trying to retrieve a lost long-time friendship because of one irrational episode, but it may not be possible for unsure how far my friend understands my MS, which is why this article is so helpful as it shows that MS can affect us emotionally as well as physically. Thanks, Devin.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing and for reading! I too am lucky that my wife now understands. Stress is such a big culprit for me too, not just with mood swings but with pretty much every symptom. Thanks again, and good luck with your friend, I have a few I am working on too and I hope this article helps make them understand.

  • cw
    3 years ago

    I agree Devin, I must have tried 20 Mood stabilizers and antidepressants and none worked and had the same affect as you did. Anger is the worst and my moods are misunderstood but no one really cares or doesn’t want to deal with it. Spent more than a dozen years in therapy which didn’t do a darn thing for me.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing. Sorry to hear it’s been difficult for you too. Anger is such a terrible thing to have to deal with.

  • Cathy Chester moderator
    3 years ago

    Excellent piece and a topic that’s not only misunderstood but rarely discussed. I was wondering if you take anything to help with mood swings, either prescribed by a doctor or of a holistic nature. Thanks and great job! Cathy Chester

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks Cathy! I currently don’t take anything specifically for mood swings. I did have a nuero put me on Celexa briefly but that seemed to make things worse (and actually made me suicidal, I don’t seem to react to those types of drugs well).

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