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Post-disease-related-stress disorder


 

Dubious story of the day: Court links soldier’s MS to post-traumatic stress

A recent court ruling has raised unusual new concerns about the post-traumatic stress that afflicts a growing number of Canadian soldiers, concluding that such anxiety may have helped cause multiple sclerosis in an air force veteran.

Got it. New concerns… post-traumatic stress… may cause multiple sclerosis. It’s only in paragraph 10 that we learn:

A leading expert on the disease, however, said there is no evidence that anxiety can cause multiple sclerosis, or even alter the long-term course of the disease.

Actually not just a leading expert: the chief medical officer for the MS Society of Canada, who tells us

“Stress is not itself the cause of anybody’s MS. That has never been shown in any study.”

Moreover, as we learn still lower down (paragraph 14), the “post-traumatic stress” the soldier suffered in this case was not the result of being in combat or even near it, but from the Forces’ failure to acknowledge an earlier, mystery illness:

No one could pinpoint the cause of the sickness or would allow him to go on sick leave. Instead, he had to work every day for months, causing stress that left him unable to sleep for days at a time…

So he contracts one disease because he’s so stressed that he wasn’t allowed sick leave for an earlier disease. This, on the evidence of a single doctor, his own, who came to this highly novel conclusion, he says, because

all his MS patients had some psychologically or physically traumatizing event — from a death in the family to a car accident — before developing the disease…

It took the MS Society doctor to point out that everyone suffers a death in the family at some point in his life. Yet only a small fraction of the population contracts MS. Did that not occur to the judge in this case?


 
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Post-disease-related-stress disorder

  1. Gawd I hate stories such as these. On the face of it, it seems pretty clear it was a wacked out ruling.

    On the other hand, Mr. Blackwell duly reports that the victim contracted some other disease that caused severe joint pain and a 60lb weight loss presumably due to the "constant vomiting". During this time, the victim had to work every day for months on end. Glad I wasn't a coworker. While I believe this may have been the testimony of the soldier in question… quite frankly I don't find it believable.

    Also given that the causes of MS are unknown, (but widely thought to be a combination of immune system activity, the environment, infectious diseases and genetics.) I find it highly doubtful that Dr. O'Connor simply dismissed any linkage between the MS and Mr. Patterson's job especially that earlier disease.

    Bits and pieces that are inconsistent or implausible or both just sort of thrown in there. This type of reporting seems more interested in creating storylines rather than telling the story.

    Aside:
    For me the most compelling story would be: Why the military's review board played hardball with this veteran? He is reported to have flow missions "such hot spots as Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda". He presumably served his country well. A responsible employer in the private sector would have recognized two things:
    1) the decent thing to do would be to support a long-standing employee in trouble.
    2) even if the employer felt the bottom line overruled decency… the smart thing to do is support a long-standing employee in trouble. The costs associated with boosting moral among the veteran's colleagues (kinda important when your employees go to war zones, and you are always recruiting new employees) far outweigh the costs of a pension.

  2. And I thought I was cynical.

    I wouldn't be surprised if this man's MS suffering was caused or heavily exacerbated by PTSD. PTSD can cause all kinds of seemingly unrelated physical symptoms, including non-neurological seizures. Look it up, it's a real and frightening phenomenon.

    Also, you can't equate the stress of a family death to the kinds of stress that soldiers, law enforcers, firefighters, paramedics and victims of abuse experience. Death is death, we can deal with that. Mass death and the kind of horrors that these people witness and experience goes far beyond the loss of a loved one. That kind of experience can destroy your entire conception of reality.

    • You might not be surprised to eventually learn it was caused by PTSD – should that ever be proved – but the empirical evidence is not currently there to tell you it was likely, let alone definitively true. Your instincts are strongly telling you something, and you are free as an individual to act on your instincts, but making public policy or legal decisions based on your instincts – or anyone else's – would be wrong.

      There may be times when taking action on hunches based on the best available evidence are necessary, and the outcomes may or may not work out – that's the risk and depending on the circumstances, we may be willing to accept those risks. However, in a deliberative process like court cases, I would hope that the judges would demand a higher degree of evidence than a hunch.

      • Well, it's a subject that you can't really ethically do controlled research on, so it's not something we may ever be definitively able to answer. But anecdotal evidence tells us that stress exacerbates illness. Just like anecdotal evidence told us that willow bark helps headaches. Then science comes along and tells us that aspirin, derived from willow bark, helps headaches. Not why, not how (until much later), but only that it does. I'm just saying there may well be something to it, and more than that, that there likely IS something to it.

  3. "all his MS patients had some psychologically or physically traumatizing event — from a death in the family to a car accident — before developing the disease…"

    When I read the above quote, the first thing that came to mind was post hoc ergo propter hoc and how I expect doctors to be smarter than that.

  4. "all his MS patients had some psychologically or physically traumatizing event — from a death in the family to a car accident — before developing the disease…"

    When I read the above sentence, the first thing that came to mind was post hoc ergo propter hoc and how I expect doctors to be smarter than that.

  5. MS is usually diagnosed through a review of clinical symptoms ….. and an MRI.

  6. I meant to add that I agreed with your differentiation between life stressors and traumatic stressors. And they likely do have a greater effect on our systems than life stressors. According to one management chart I saw on life stressors, each were given a score and if you scored above a certain number, the odds you would experience a cardiac event were multiplied several times. But several times more than what? 15 yrs later, no heart attack, but my score was a multiple of several magnitudes greater than their warning line.

    Anyway, I think if you wanted to isolate traumatic stressors as a common element you could do so ethically. But many of the jobs that have traumatic stressors as inherenet features also include other factors – like toxic smoke, ammunition, and other environmental factors that would lalso have to be accounted for. Nonetheless, it could be feasible.

  7. Maybe his "mystery illness" was MS in the first place. Regardless, the way the story is reported, they make it sound as though a plausible link between stress and MS has been established. It has not. Not even a shred of evidence points that way. Of course that should never stop an interesting headline.

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