Stress and multiple sclerosis

By Sheryl Kay • Published: September 19th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Some reports have suggested that stress may play a role in the onset of multiple sclerosis. But new research demands a second look, demonstrating that what may worsen symptoms of the disease is not the same as what actually triggers it.

Multiple sclerosis occurs when the protective sheath that surrounds our nerve cells gets damaged. This destruction leads to a variety of symptoms from weakness to not being able to walk. It’s an autoimmune disease, meaning our own immune systems are to blame for the attack, too.

To understand the link between stress and multiple sclerosis, researchers followed two groups of more than 100,000 women for three decades. Researchers had both groups report on stress at home and at work, including physical and sexual abuse in childhood.

By 2005 almost 400 of these women had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. After decades of data were analyzed, results from this massive study indicated that, in fact, severe anxiety did not put women at risk for developing multiple sclerosis. Even among women who had been abused, there was no connection between those stressful events and the likelihood they would be diagnosed with the disease.

Of course, the researchers say further study is needed, specifically using more fine-tuned measures of stress.

So what are some of the risk factors for developing multiple sclerosis? Well, according to the National Institutes of Health, women are more likely to get the disease, as are people with family members who have it. And the diagnosis is more likely to come between the ages of 20 and 40, too.

In the meantime, if you are worried about your risk of developing multiple sclerosis don’t fret too much about feeling stress. Anxiety about bills and how your kids are doing in school may give you a headache, but it won’t give you M.S.