Life stressors may contribute to MS flares, disability

May 25, 2023
A new study finds that stressors across the lifespan of a person — including poverty, abuse, and divorce — are linked to worsening health and functional outcomes for people with multiple sclerosis. These findings highlight the importance of analyzing the effect of life stressors on those with MS.

More than 2.8 million people in the world have MS, an autoimmune condition that affects the brain and spinal cord, in which the protective layer of nerve cells is attacked by the body’s immune system. People with MS can experience unique, often painful, exacerbations of their symptoms known as relapses, exacerbations, or “flares.”

Using survey data from more than 700 people with MS, researchers at University of Michigan Health discovered that stressful events occurring both in childhood and adulthood contributed significantly to participants’ level of disability.

Initially in the study, both childhood and adult stressors were significantly linked to worsening the burden caused by relapse after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the association between childhood stressors and disease burden lost significance when further accounting for experiences in adulthood. 

Researchers said that studies focused on stress and MS that don’t consider for the full lifespan could miss vital information or overestimate the relationship between childhood stressors and health outcomes.

The results were published in Brain and Behavior.

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