Dutch researchers followed 73 patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. Regular visits were scheduled every eight weeks and additional visits were arranged when patients reported symptoms of infection or exacerbation (a worsening of existing symptoms or appearance of new symptoms). Each week, patients recorded any stressful events that were not related to multiple sclerosis.
In total, 457 stressful life events were reported that were not related to multiple sclerosis. These included job stress, financial problems, or death of a close family member. Throughout the study, 134 exacerbations occurred in 56 patients and 136 infections occurred in 57 patients.
Stress was associated with double the risk of an exacerbation, but there was no evidence of an increase in infections after stressful events.
Possible explanations for these findings are not yet fully understood, say the authors, but the knowledge that stressful events are associated with disease activity adds important information to the limited insight that patients and their caregivers have on this unpredictable disease.