MS & Comorbidities

Last updated: May 2018

Comorbidity seems to be the word of the day lately in all types of multiple sclerosis discussions. Medical conversation, reviews and scientific manuscripts, link many other chronic conditions such as obesity, depression, rheumatoid arthritis and type 2 diabetes to multiple sclerosis as a comorbid companion.

Comorbidity –  the word sits with me like a newly introduced phrase that is popular at the moment because I keep hearing and reading it everywhere, and when I went looking for the root meaning of the word I stumbled upon this handy little tool from Google books which charts the use of words in books over a period of time. Not surprising to me, the word comorbidity does not even appear in a book until the 1980’s, but has taken off in use since that time.1


I dug a bit deeper and found the origin of MORBID dates back to 1656 with its first recorded use. It comes from “morbid, from Latin morbidus ("diseased"), from morbus ("disease"), from the root of mori ("to die") or from a Proto-Indo-European base mor "to rub, pound, wear away".2 Morbidity is a natural extension of the word morbid, and I didn’t bother to track down its first use.

Morbid may be ancient but the concept of more than one disease pounding away at us and wearing us down is a modern idea, and was first used in the early 1980’s when someone added CO to the MORBID to note having more than one chronic disease present.3 I can’t help but wonder if that is when the effects of 20th century life began to add more diseases, thanks to changes in lifestyles and environment. It seems like an obvious fit to me but I haven’t done any studies to prove my thoughts, so don’t look for this to be published other than here.

In A New Paradigm for MS Care – Optimizing Health Through the Integration of Lifestyle, Alternative, and Conventional Medicine, presented by Allen Bowling, MD, PhD, at the annual meeting of the Consortium for MS Centers, he reviews a few of  the comorbidities of MS and their effect on our overall health. For mental health comorbidities he identifies depression and anxiety. Physical comorbidities in people with MS often include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and chronic lung disease, according to his presentation.4

Dr. Bowling notes that people with MS have a greater likelihood of developing comorbidities as their disability increases. If our MS progresses further, we might be faced with the additional comorbidities of problems with our muscles and bones, diabetes, and peripheral vascular disease. Understandably, the more comorbidities a person has, the lower their quality of life will probably be, according to the work of Dr. Bowling.

I’ve said before I am not a fan of the word comorbidity because it sounds dire, and I am even less a fan of having multiple chronic conditions. It would be well worth the effort to see if some of these comorbid problems we face might be reduced by better habits of exercise and nutrition, as well as complimentary therapies such as yoga, acupuncture and massage, to go with the traditional MS treatments. It would be nice to find a way to make the word comorbidity disappear when it comes to discussing multiple sclerosis.

Wishing you well,


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