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Study: No Link Found Between Stress and Development of Multiple Sclerosis

May 31, 2011

A new study finds that stress does not appear to increase a person’s risk of developing MS. The study, published in the May 31, 2011 issue of Neurology, focused on two large groups of women involved in the Nurses’ Health Study, involving hundreds of thousands of female nurses followed over time. The nurses were asked to report on general stress at home and at work, as well as recall physical and sexual abuse in childhood and as teenagers. The investigators, led by Trond Riise, PhD (University of Bergen, Norway), concluded that their results do not support a major role of stress in the development of MS, but that more research is needed to definitely exclude stress as a potential risk factor for developing MS.

Background: Some studies have suggested that stress may be linked to MS exacerbations, or attacks, but there is still no conclusive evidence that links the two (Read more about stress and MS). There have been a few previous studies linking stressful events with the onset of MS, but there has not been definite evidence that stress could cause MS. This is the question posed in this study.

Details: With funding from the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Riise and collaborators focused on two Nurses’ Health Study groups, involving female nurses in the U.S. followed over time: the NHS1 included 121,700 nurses between the ages of 30-55 who have been followed from 1976. NHS2 included 116,671 nurses between the ages of 25-42 who have been followed from 1989. The participants had responded to past questionnaires about their history of stressful events. Later, a small proportion of the nurses developed MS, and the investigators were able to compare the answers about stressors between those who developed MS and those who did not.

The investigators found that those who later developed MS did not respond significantly different than those who did not develop MS in terms of their histories of general levels of stress or physical or sexual abuse. They accounted for other variables, such as smoking, that have been linked to increasing the risk of developing MS. The authors conclude that this study does not support a major role for stress in the development of MS, but suggest that further research is needed to definitely exclude stress as a risk factor for MS.

Read more about what causes MS.

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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