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New Study Shows Links Between Stress and Disability/Relapses in MS

May 25, 2023

A survey of 713 people with MS adds to evidence of links between stress and both disability levels and relapses. Right now, people can take steps to reduce stress – see below.
  • Background: Stress is part of everyday life. The diagnosis of MS can sometimes make the stress of daily life feel overwhelming. Many people with MS say that during stressful times, they experience more or worse symptoms. When the stress decreases, their symptoms seem less troubling or less severe. Research is ongoing to determine the exact impact of stress on MS, and how these impacts can be reduced.
  • This Study: The research team from the University of Michigan gathered 713 responses to an online survey. Participants answered questions on stressors (events or situations that cause stress) before and after age 18, disability level, and relapse burden since the pandemic. Examples of stressors included physical/sexual/emotional abuse, neglect, poverty, divorce, neighborhood violence, witnessing domestic abuse, feeling excluded based on personal factors, and job loss.
  • Results: Participants reported an average of 2.6 stressors experienced during childhood, and an average of 23.6 experienced as an adult. The results show associations between childhood and adult stress and MS disability levels in adults. Adult stressors were associated with an increase in relapse burden since the pandemic.
  • The Meaning: These results show evidence of a connection between stress and MS. They present an opportunity to intervene and reduce stress levels. The authors are following up on this research to understand how the connection works – do other factors such as sleep, smoking, or mental health affect this link? Stress is a part of life, but people with MS can take steps right now to try to reduce it – see below.
Get help with stress: Associations among stressors across the lifespan, disability, and relapses in adults with multiple sclerosis” by Carri S. Polick, Robert Ploutz-Snyder, Tiffany J. Braley, Cathleen M. Connell, Sarah A. Stoddard is published in Brain and Behavior (First published: 21 May 2023).

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.


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