Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive disease; slowing the advance of this disease improves quality of life for patients. Learning stress management techniques can be just as effective as medications for delaying MS progression in some patients, says David C. Mohr, Ph.D. and fellow researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
Dr. Mohr’s research, published earlier this summer in the journal Neurology, took a look at the progression of disease in 121 people with relapsing forms of MS. Half of these patients took part in a thorough stress management program that included 16 sessions with a therapist over half a year’s time. The other half of the patients served as a control group; they were put on a waiting list for almost a year before they were offered a five-hour workshop on stress management.
The stress management meetings focused on problem-solving skills, relaxation, increasing positive activities, and enhancing social support. Additional, but optional, coursework on the topics of fatigue management, anxiety reduction, pain management, and insomnia treatment were offered to these patients. Patient health was followed for another five to six months after the stress management sessions ended.
Stress Management Pays Off
Keeping a handle on stress brought tangible benefits to MS patients. Nearly three-quarters of those in the stress management group were free of new lesions during the study. These lesions indicate disease activity. By comparison, about half of the wait-listed control group was free of lesions.
This stalling of disease progression is no small potatoes. In fact, the beneficial effect of stress control was on par with other recent phase II trials of new medications for MS. However, the stress control techniques did not have a lasting effect. After the sessions were over, the progression of the MS disease reverted to that of the control group.
Approximately 350,000 people in the United States have multiple sclerosis. Most people with MS experience their first symptoms between the ages of 20-40. Multiple sclerosis is not preventable, but certain factors might trigger a relapse. For example, hot weather and becoming overheated (such as through exercise), since both increase body temperature, can cause symptoms to temporarily worsen. Although there is no cure for multiple sclerosis, there are medications that can manage symptoms. And, now, stress management seems to be added to the list of helpful techniques for those with MS.