The study involved 121 people with MS. Half received the stress management program, which involved meeting with a therapist for 16 individual 50-minute sessions over five to six months. Participants in this group learned about problem-solving skills, relaxation, increasing positive activities, and enhancing their social support. They could also choose optional sessions on topics such as fatigue management, anxiety reduction, pain management and insomnia treatment. After the treatment ended, the participants were followed for another five to six months.
The remaining participants were put on a waiting list as a control group. After 10 months, they attended a five-hour workshop on stress management.
During the treatment period, a total of 77 percent of those receiving the stress management training were free of new lesions or brain damage that indicates disease activity, compared to 55 percent of those in the control group.
“The size of the effect is similar to other recent phase II trials of new drug therapies for MS,” said study author David C. Mohr, PhD, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “While it’s premature to make any specific recommendations about using this type of stress management training to manage MS disease activity, it will be important to conduct more research to identify specifically how this treatment is benefiting people with MS.”
In addition, questionnaires showed that those receiving the training had greater reductions in their stress levels than the control group.
However, the positive effects of the training did not continue after the treatment period. “This was unexpected,” Mohr said. “It’s possible that people were not able to sustain their new coping skills once the support ended, or that some aspect of the treatment other than stress management skills, such as the social support, was the most beneficial part of the treatment.”
The study was supported by the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development.
Material adapted from American Academy of Neurology (AAN).