May 21, 2003
Stress may increase multiple sclerosis activity because of how the body's nervous system independently reacts to it and the life events that cause it, according to a new study.
For one year, 50 female MS patients filled out weekly life-event checklists. The threat of each event was determined by using the Life Events and Difficulties Schedule, an instrument used to measure life events and stress levels. Neurological or nervous system symptoms were monitored weekly. A neurologist, unaware of the patient's life events, confirmed MS exacerbations.
Cardiovascular or heart and blood vessel reactivity to a severe psychological stressor was determined at the study's onset, and resting heart rate and blood pressure were monitored monthly.
Forty-two percent of life events were associated with an exacerbation or increase of MS activity. Exacerbated activity was more likely to occur during at-risk periods following life events and was relatively independent of the threat level or stressor type. Patients with higher cardiovascular reactivity to severe stress and higher baseline heart rate demonstrated more exacerbations and proportion of weeks spent feeling ill.
Results showed that disability level, drug usage, cardiovascular reactivity, baseline heart rate and life event significance accounted for approximately 30 percent of the differences in weeks spent feeling ill.
The scientists reported their findings in the June issue of Brain, Behavior,
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