These emotional disorders may be present in early MS

People with multiple sclerosis (MS) may find it more difficult to recognise emotions in other people, and experience more intense emotions than those without the condition, a new study has found.

It’s already known that some people with MS can experience emotional disorders – they may burst into tears of laughter for no reason, or be unable to recognise an emotion in someone else. It’s thought to be caused by brain damage from the condition, and can make someone more likely to experience depression.

Researchers at the University of Strasbourg and the French National Centre for Scientific Research studied 25 woman with MS who were on interferon beta treatment. There was an age and education-matched control group.

The study used the Florida Affect Battery (FAB) to test emotional recognition. The FAB has four subdivisions which test how people perceive sadness, happiness, fear, anger, and neutral emotions.

The Facial Affect Discrimination tests whether two different faces are expressing the same emotion, the Facial Affect Selection involves a person pointing out specific expressions, the Facial Affect Naming asks that the participant names the emotion seen in a picture, and the Facial Affect Matching requires a participant to match pictures of faces showing the same emotions.

The groups scored similarly on the non-emotion part of FAB, but the group with MS performed significantly worse than the control group, in particular the selection and matching tests. There was no significant difference between the groups for the naming and discrimination subtests.

MS patients interpreted fear as anger more often, and had greater difficulty telling the difference between neutral expressions and anger and sadness and anger.

The next test used the International Affective Picture System to measure emotions when participants viewed pictures which were designed to elicit emotional responses.

The researchers said the results showed MS patients experienced the emotions more intensely than the controls, because they rated the positive images more positively and the negative ones more negatively.

They wrote that MS patients tend to have more difficulty identifying emotions in others and their emotions are more exacerbated.

The researchers suggested that as the group were in the early stages of the condition, and had little cognitive or motor issues, emotional disorders could be “a central symptom of this pathology, present from the first stages of the disease.”