"PURPOSE: The aims of this study were first, to examine the general relation between stressful life events (SLEs) and clinical relapses in women with multiple sclerosis (MS) and second, to investigate the relations of the specific stressor attributes of duration, type, and severity on MS exacerbations.
METHODS: Twenty six ambulating women with relapsing-remitting MS were followed-up for a mean of 56.3weeks. Patients documented SLEs weekly in self report diaries which were then collected at regular pre-scheduled clinic visits every 4weeks. SLEs were classified as short-term if they had subjectively no lasting effect and long-term if they had a subjectively felt psychological impact that lasted at least 10-14days after the event. The severity of SLEs was determined using the Recent Life Change Questionnaire.
RESULTS: Experiencing three or more SLEs, during a 4-week period, was associated with a 5-fold increase of MS relapse rate (95% CI 1.7-16.4, p=0.003). The presence of at least one long-term SLE was associated with three times (95% CI 1.01-9.13, p<0.05) the rate of MS exacerbation during the following 4weeks. There was no significant association between the severity (95% CI 0.99-1.01, p>0.05) or the type (chi(2)=7.29, df=5, p>0.05) of stressor and the risk for relapse.
CONCLUSION: Ambulatory women with relapsing-remitting MS who experience cumulative SLEs may be at a greater risk for relapse. Duration is the only stress attribute that seems to increase the risk for relapsing in contrast to stress type and stress severity that were not found to interact with MS exacerbation