Relax to Prevent MS Progression

Stress management for multiple sclerosis patients may prevent new disease activity

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Headaches, muscle tension, pain, fatigue and anxiety are all signs that stress is working over your body. We know that managing our stress levels is important, but for multiple sclerosis (MS) patients, it may be key to halting the disease’s progression.

A recent study published in the July issue of Neurology investigated how actively managing stress levels can improve multiple sclerosis symptoms.

The investigators found that stress management programs reduced the presence of new brain lesions caused by MS.

"Ask a therapist how best to reduce stress."

David C. Mohr, PhD, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, divided 121 patients with MS into two groups. The first group of MS patients received treatment with an ongoing stress management program and the second group served as a wait list control group.

The group received ongoing stress management met with a therapist for 16 one-on-one 50 minute sessions and learned about a variety of mandatory and optional topics over 24 weeks. These topics included fatigue management, anxiety reduction, pain management, insomnia, problem solving, relaxation techniques, social support and how to generally increase positive activities.

The group receiving ongoing treatment was also given a 24-week post treatment follow-up. The control group was given a five-hour workshop on stress management after the duration of 10 months.

The patients received magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans at baseline and every eight weeks up to 48 weeks, to check for brain lesions associated with inflammatory response.

In the group receiving stress management treatment, 77 percent were free of new lesions. Fifty-five percent of the control group were free of new lesions over the study period.

“Many persons with MS are not interested in taking any more medications than absolutely necessary. It is therefore essential that clinicians and researchers work together to identify non-pharmacological interventions to help patients manage their symptoms,” said Nancy D. Chiaravalloti, PhD, Director of Neuropsychology & Neuroscience Research at the Kessler Foundation.

Unfortunately, the benefit of the treatment ended when the stress management program ended. It is suspected that the patients did not continue treatment on their own.

“This represents a significant step forward in our ability to help MS patients manage their disease and can likely exert a significant impact on their overall quality of life,” said Dr. Chiaravalloti. “Future studies should seek to identify a means of increasing the duration of the treatment effect over time.”

The study was funded by the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development.

Several of the authors reported conflicts of interest including associations with pharmaceutical companies including Biogen Idec, Serona, Teva, Acorda, Actelion, Pfizer, Bayer and Astellis. Associations were also reported with Acorda, Lilly Inc, Genentech and Novartis and the National Institute of Health.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 14, 2012
Last Updated:
January 7, 2013