Stress management training may help reduce disease activity in multiple sclerosis patients


A new study published by David C Mohr, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, USA, and colleagues shows that taking part in a stress management programme may help people with multiple sclerosis (MS) prevent new disease activity. 

The study is published in the 11 July 2012, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study involved 121 people with MS. Half received the stress management programme, meeting with a therapist for 16 individual 50-minute sessions over five to six months. They learned about problem-solving skills, relaxation, increasing positive activities, and enhancing their social support. They could also choose optional sessions on topics such as fatigue management, anxiety reduction, pain management and insomnia treatment. After the treatment ended, the participants were followed for another five to six months. The remaining participants were put on a waiting list as a control group.

After 10 months, they attended a five-hour workshop on stress management.

During the treatment period, those receiving the stress management training were nearly one-third likely to develop new areas of brain damage, or lesions that indicate disease activity, than those in the control group. A total of 77% of those receiving the training were free of new lesions during the treatment period, compared to 55% of those in the control group.

“The size of the effect is similar to other recent phase II trials of new drug therapies for MS,” said Mohr. “While it is premature to make any specific recommendations about using this type of stress management training to manage MS disease activity, it will be important to conduct more research to identify specifically how this treatment is benefiting people with MS.”

In addition, questionnaires showed that those receiving the training had greater reductions in their stress levels than the control group.

However, the positive effects of the training did not continue after the treatment period. “This was unexpected,” Mohr said. “It is possible that people were not able to sustain their new coping skills once the support ended, or that some aspect of the treatment other than stress management skills, such as the social support, was the most beneficial part of the treatment.”