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Personality trait alterations in MS patients

Presented by
Dr Laura Chu, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada
Personality traits that are often seen in patients with a recent MS diagnosis (<2 years ago) are, first and foremost, being highly agreeable, followed by being conscientious, open, and neurotic. Extraversion is less prominent. Women are significantly more likely to be agreeable and conscientious than men [1].

Neuropsychiatric changes, including personality disturbances, are common in patients with MS. Personality traits may help explain differences on an individual level in disease acceptance, coping styles, and psychological well-being. As such, these traits impact patient care, compliance, and quality of life, and they influence healthy behaviour, symptoms, and comorbidities. Little is known about the personality of MS patients at the earliest stages of the disease.

To this end, the MS clinic of the Western University in Canada performed a retrospective chart review on adult patients that had been recently diagnosed with MS. Comprehensive baseline psychometric testing of MS patients, including NEO-Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI), is a standard of care in this centre. The study aimed to determine if an “MS personality” exists and which personality traits would then predominate. Dr Laura Chu (Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada) shared the results.

The study included NEO-FFI results of 390 patients, collected within the first 2 years after the diagnosis. Of these, 363 (93%) patients had relapsing-remitting MS, about two thirds were female, and nearly all were white. The mean age was 38 years and median Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) score was 2.0 (0.0–6.0). The most frequently prescribed treatments were interferon beta/glatiramer acetate (32.8%), dimethyl fumarate (15.9%), or teriflunomide (7.4%); a large proportion (39.0%) received no treatment at all.

Overall, the personality trait most predominantly present was being (highly) agreeable: 53.9% of participants were rated “high” or “very high”, and 29.0% “average.” A slight tendency towards higher rates of conscientiousness, openness, and neuroticism was detected. Being extravert was generally less prominent: 38.0% scored “low” or “very low”, while 27.2% scored “high” or “very high”. On average, women had significantly higher degrees of agreeableness (P<0.001) and conscientiousness (P=0.007). No significant differences between women and men for neuroticism, extraversion, or openness were detected.

  1. Chu L. Is there a multiple sclerosis (MS) personality? Personality characteristics in persons with recently diagnosed MS at a single Canadian centre. P078, ECTRIMS 2021 Virtual Congress, 13–15 October.


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