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Can MS Give You PTSD?

Can having a chronic illness, like Multiple Sclerosis, cause a person to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? Many people will see that question and quickly dismiss it. PTSD is something that veterans returning from war have, not people with an autoimmune disease! But if we delve a little deeper into PTSD and chronic illness, it’s not as far fetched as it may initially sound.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental illness that can develop after a person has been exposed to a traumatic event. A situation that evokes an overwhelming amount of stress, so much so that the brain has trouble coping. We often associate the horrors of war with causing this, but that is far from the only potential source. In fact, sexual assault, car accidents, and childbirth are common examples of non-war related traumatic events that trigger PTSD. Not everyone who experiences the same event will get PTSD (if there is something every person with MS should know by know, it’s that everyone’s brain is different and reacts differently). PTSD often causes the person to relive their traumatic event. This causes them to experience a wide range of emotions, such as fear, anger, guilt, terror, shock, and nervousness. It can also cause a person to begin to avoid people and situations that their brain associates with the traumatic event. While these all may sound like common occurrences after a distressing event (they are), the key to recognizing them as PTSD is that all of this occurs over an extended period of time, so much so that it begins to affect the way a person lives their life.

Is chronic illness traumatic?

After you learn a little more about PTSD, it becomes clear that any traumatic event can be a cause. What is traumatic to one brain isn’t necessarily so for another. While I hate to say it, there are a lot of things about a chronic illness like MS that can be extremely traumatic to different people. Common procedures like MRIs, spinal taps, and even self-administering injections can be quite traumatic to some people. I can’t imagine a severely claustrophobic person having to undergo the amount of MRIs that most of us are put through. To them, having MS must seem like hell on earth simply because of its nature as the most common diagnostic tool. Severe exacerbations can be extremely traumatic as well (waking up unable to walk, as has happened to me, that kind of thing can affect you), as can other common occurrences, like falls.

The consequences of MS

The consequences of MS can be extremely distressing to some as well. Having to use a wheelchair may not be a big deal to most, but for others, it can be devastating. Having to give up a career that you’ve worked your whole life for can also be traumatic. There are some for whom the moment they were diagnosed with the incurable illness is extremely traumatic. So yes, for some of the population, there are parts of having a chronic illness that are very traumatic.

Can a chronic illness lead to PTSD though?

While I don’t think it’s common, I’d say that it’s certainly possible. For some people, elements of having a chronic illness can be extremely traumatic. They can relive and suffer from those moments to the point that it has an adverse effect on their lives. Even if someone with MS doesn’t develop actual PTSD, we know that the chances that they will suffer from other forms of mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, and mood swings, are much greater than the normal population. You don’t need to be diagnosed with full-blown PTSD to be suffering from the trauma of chronic illness.

Mental health is a real challenge

Mental health can be a real challenge to those with MS, and as I’ve said in the past, everyone with MS should have a mental health professional in their MS health care team. They are every bit as important as a good neurologist, just as these mental health symptoms can be every bit as debilitating as the physical ones.

Thanks for reading!

Devin

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Comments

  • Stephanieb616
    10 months ago

    Hi,
    I need advice please.ive been experiencing terrible edema in limbs..Lasix and flomax not helping as i have a lazy bladder..
    I am on ocrevus which was preceded with rituxin infusions.
    HAS ANYBODY HAD EDEMA ISSUES FROM INFUSIONs???
    Help

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    10 months ago

    Hi @stephanieb616, I am not on Ocrevus, but you should speak to your doctor about that as soon as you can.

  • BeckyAnn
    10 months ago

    Devin:
    Thank you again for your insight on so much that goes on in my daily life.
    I have had in words of my neurologist “Good that my MS is just in my arms.”
    Yes I still drive but not like I used to or as far.
    I am a co-owner of a Pest Control company and I have had to give up going and doing as much as I used to and to me both of these are very depressing.
    I feel like sometimes not even getting out of bed but do to the business being family owned I feel like I have to keep pushing because if I give up then I let everyone down so it is just a vicious cycle everyday.
    That to me is very mentally stressful.
    All I am saying is there are many forms of trauma and MENTAL is one of the WORST.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    10 months ago

    Thank you @BeckyAnn, I 100% agree with you about mental trauma, it’s very hard on people and not recognized nearly enough!

  • Monk
    10 months ago

    Devin, I respectfully disagree with your statement that “Having to use a wheelchair may not be a big deal to most….”. I would argue it is quite the opposite. I think it is a huge, gigantic life changing deal for most people including myself. The idea people often express is “I don’t want to end up in a wheelchair” when faced with an illness is pervasive in our culture.
    Like myself, I think many people do adjust to living in a wheelchair and are still able to carve out much joy and happiness in their lives.
    As always, thank you for writing.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    10 months ago

    Thank you @Monk, you make some wonderful points! Appreciate you chiming in!

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