Stress Management Therapy Reduced Development of Brain Lesions in People with Multiple Sclerosis, New Study Found

By Helen Holmes on February 22, 2019

 In a new study published in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, experts observed that patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) benefited from undergoing weekly stress management program.

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis, also known as ‘encephalomyelitis disseminata’ was first described by Jean Martin Charcot in 1868. It is a kind of inflammatory disease which affects the brain and the spinal cord. It happens when the myelin sheaths that surround the axons of the brain and the spinal cord are damaged, which then leads to scarring, and later on, to the degeneration of the central nervous system. Myelin is a thin cover which is responsible for protecting the nerve cells. Around 10,000 people in the UK have MS, and in the US, there are around 350,000 people affected by it. MS is more common in women and usually develop in young adults.

There is no known cure for multiple sclerosis at the moment. All medical approaches available are designed to reduce the symptoms and not really to eliminate the disease. On a new study however, researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found a new seemingly effective approach to help people with MS. According to the lead author David Mohr, this is the first time that psychotherapy has been shown to prevent the development of brain lesions among MS patients.

Stress Management Therapy for Patients with MS

In a clinical trial, 121 MS patients were randomised to receive stress management therapy. A control group was assigned to test the effectiveness of the program. One group of MS patients received therapy sessions for over a 24-week period. During the program, patients were taught how to cope with stressful situations and improve their ability to response with such situations as they arise. They were also taught how to stay calm through meditation and relaxation techniques. The patients also received a 24-week post-therapy follow up.

By looking through the MRI scanned images, the researchers found that the stress management program helped reduce the development of new brain lesions, which are common among MS patients.

There were two types of lesions that were prevented among the patients involved in the study. These are:

Gadolinium-enhancing brain lesions – this lesion happens when there’s a breakdown of the blood-brain barrier, which makes it easy for the free radicals to attack the brain cells. Such lesions may heal and disappear in time, or cause permanent damage on the brain.

T2 brain lesion – this is much worse than the first type of lesion, because it is more likely to create permanent brain damage. These markers are used in diagnosing MS. If the lesions is reduced, that means the drug is working.

Of all patients who received stress management therapy, 55% developed a gadolinium-enhancing brain lesion. This is significantly lower as compared the control group, by which 77% developed said lesion. The same effect takes place whether or not the patients took medications.

Although the results of the experiments were positive, Mohr warned MS patients about discontinuing taking their medications. According to him, it’s too early to provide recommendations on the use of stress management therapy against multiple sclerosis.

Source of this article:

Stress Management Training May Help Reduce Disease Activity in MS, American Academy of Neurology

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