Brain Scans Show MS-Related Depression

Study helps explain high rate of depression in people with multiple sclerosis

Medically reviewed in January 2021

Blurry vision, numbness, painful muscle spasms: These are the hallmark signs of multiple sclerosis (MS). But the neurological disease doesn't just ravage the body. Sometimes it likes to play mind games, bringing on depression in about half of people with MS. One theory is the stress of having a chronic, possibly disabling condition takes a toll on your mental health. You can't really argue with that.

Or maybe you can. Some experts now think the root of depression in MS may have less to do with emotional stress and more to do with how the disease changes the brain.

Meet your hippocampus
The cause of depression in general isn't clear, and why it's so common in MS has been even foggier. A brain study published in the January 2014 issue of Human Brain Mapping may help solve the puzzle.

The study homed in on changes in the hippocampus, the small region of the brain that helps regulate mood. Using a new computerized technique called automated surface mesh modeling, researchers looked at MRI brain scans of 109 women with MS. In women with more severe forms of depression, the right hippocampus was significantly smaller. The finding supports previous research that linked depression with the size of the hippocampus.

Take control
While the cause of MS-related depression may literally be in your head, it's not all in your mind. Depression is a very real and serious MS symptom. It can strike any person with MS, at any time.

The silver lining is that depression is one of the most treatable symptoms of MS. So be sure to talk with your doctor if you experience any feelings of sadness or loss of interest in everyday activities. Remember, depression isn't a sign of personal weakness or a reason to feel ashamed. With your doctor's help, you can find effective treatment options to help manage your depression.

And to help keep your chin up, give these self-care tips a try.

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