Research has shown that stress management treatment significantly reduced the formation of new brain lesions in people with multiple sclerosis (MS) over the course of treatment. The research was conducted by Jesus Lovera, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, and colleagues. These lesions are markers of disease activity used to objectively measure disease status. The work is published ahead of print and is now available online in Neurology.
"Our research found that 77% of the patients undergoing stress management therapy remained free of lesions while they were in treatment compared to 55% of those in the control group," notes Dr. Jesus Lovera, an LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans board certified neurologist whose research and practice focus on multiple sclerosis.
The research team studied 121 patients with relapsing forms of MS, most of whom are women. They were randomly assigned to receive stress management therapy for MS or were wait-listed while continuing to receive their usual treatment for MS. The therapy group received 16 individual treatment sessions over 24 weeks, and were then followed for an additional 24 weeks.
The sessions included teaching problem solving skills, relaxation, increasing positive activities, cognitive restructuring, and enhancement of social support. Participants were able to tailor the treatment to meet their needs using optional treatment modules including communication and assertiveness training, fatigue management, anxiety reduction, pain management, management of cognitive problems, and insomnia treatment.
MRIs were performed at the start of the study as well as at weeks 8, 16, 24, 32, 40 and 48. They revealed that while lesions were prevented or reduced during stress therapy, the benefit did not continue beyond treatment. Possible explanations include the need for longer, or possibly indefinite stress management therapy, participants' inability to sustain coping skills once the support of active treatment ended, or that the experience of a supportive relationship was responsible for the changes.
"Stress management clearly improved disease activity in the treatment group - our primary finding - for the duration of therapy," concludes Dr. Lovera, "That finding lays the groundwork for further study to determine how best to continue the benefit."
According to the National Institutes of Health which funded the study, multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system.) Caused by damage to the myelin sheath that covers and protects nerve cells, the resulting inflammation slows down or stops signals from the nerves. MS affects women more than men. Symptoms range from loss of balance and problems moving arms and legs to double or loss of vision and trouble chewing or swallowing. There is currently no cure.