Life stressors may contribute to multiple sclerosis flares, disability

The findings highlight the importance of analyzing the impact of life stressors on those with MS

5:00 AM

Author | Noah Fromson

brain drawing

A Michigan Medicine-led study finds that stressors across the lifespan — including poverty, abuse and divorce — are associated with worsening health and functional outcomes for people with multiple sclerosis.

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

The results are published in Brain and Behavior.

“MS is the leading cause of non-traumatic disability among young adults, and additional research is needed to identify these external drivers of disability that can be addressed or prevented, including stress, to improve functional outcomes,” said co-author Tiffany Braley, M.D., M.S., director of the Multiple Sclerosis/Neuroimmunology Division and Multidisciplinary MS Fatigue and Sleep Clinic at University of Michigan Health.

SEE ALSO: Insomnia, sleep apnea contribute to reports of cognitive decline in women with multiple sclerosis

“This knowledge is needed to inform MS research as well as clinical care. Referrals to resources, such as mental health or substance use support could help reduce the impact of stress and enhance wellbeing,” Braley said.

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 a relapses, exacerbations or “flares”.

SEE ALSO: Symptoms, like pain and fatigue, often cluster in newly diagnosed MS

Initially in the study, both childhood and adult stressors were significantly associated with worse 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. 

Studies focused on stress and MS that don’t account for the full lifespan, researchers say, could miss vital information or overestimate the relationship between childhood stressors and health outcomes.

“Adverse Childhood Experiences, which we call ACEs, and other childhood stressors could impact immune, inflammatory and behavioral processes throughout life, and reduce resilience to adult stress,” said first author Carri Polick, Ph.D., R.N., who completed this work while at the U-M School of Nursing and is now a postdoctoral fellow in the National Clinician Scholars Program at Duke University.

“It is important to use a lifespan approach in future work to better understand patterns and inform symptom management. For example, we are expanding upon this work to investigate mechanistic pathways through sleep, smoking and mental health, through which stressors may lead to worse MS outcomes including increased disability, pain and fatigue.”

Additional authors include Robert Ploutz-Snyder, Ph.D., Cathleen M. Connell, Ph.D., and Sarah A. Stoddard, Ph.D., all from the University of Michigan.

This work was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Nursing Research.

Paper cited: “Associations among stressors across the lifespan, disability, and relapses in adults with Multiple Sclerosis,” Brain and Behavior. DOI: 10.1002/brb3


More Articles About: Multiple Sclerosis (MS) autoimmune immunotherapy Allergy and Immunology Neurological (Brain) Conditions Neurological Disorders Musculoskeletal Neurology Neurodegenerative Disorder
Health Lab word mark overlaying blue cells
Health Lab

Explore a variety of healthcare news & stories by visiting the Health Lab home page for more articles.

Media Contact Public Relations

Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine

[email protected]

734-764-2220

Stay Informed

Want top health & research news weekly? Sign up for Health Lab’s newsletters today!

Subscribe
Featured News & Stories family smiling togehter
Health Lab
Ketogenic diet helps 4-year-old live seizure free
Last year, a young girl experienced up to 40 seizures a week. Today, after nearly a year of working with the ketogenic diet team at University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital – overseen by a pediatric neurologist and dietitian – she’s celebrating six months of seizure freedom.
Pink head brain maze
Health Lab
The malfunction of an undamaged brain
People with these two functional neurologic disorders often go misdiagnosed
white bowls with allergens in each one
Health Lab
Measuring skin water loss predicts anaphylaxis during food allergy tests
Measuring skin water loss during food allergy tests may help predict anaphylaxis and keep patients safe. The method aims to detect the life threatening reaction before epinephrine injections are necessary
Person tying shoes on floor
Health Lab
Different pain types in multiple sclerosis can cause difficulty staying active
Chronic pain can present in multiple forms for multiple sclerosis patients. Some forms make it harder to stay active than others.
vial of blood in container lab blue yellow grainy graphic
Health Lab
Drawing a tube of blood could assess ALS risk from environmental toxin exposure
Investigators have developed an environmental risk score that assesses a person’s risk for developing ALS, as well as for survival after diagnosis, using a blood sample.
Minding Memory with a microphone and a shadow of a microphone on a blue background
Minding Memory
Lecanemab: Breakthrough Alzheimer’s Disease Medication Déjà vu
In this episode of Minding Memory, we dive into the newest FDA-approved drug to treat Alzheimer’s – Lecanemab – with Ohio State University stroke neurologist Jim Burke. Dr. Burke discusses the benefits and drawbacks of the new Alzheimer’s drug and also the paradigm shift of how people (clinicians, patients, and the general population) are thinking about these news Alzheimer’s medications.