The effect of stress on the initial onset and relapse rate of multiple sclerosis
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Over 400,000 Americans have multiple sclerosis (MS) and doctors can not discover the cause of the disease or how to stop the progressive deterioration. The symptoms of MS are caused by destruction of the myelin sheath, in which the nerve pathways are disrupted and problems with movement, sensation or vision can occur. One environmental factor, stress, has been hypothesized to be a contributor to the onset of MS and one of many factors controlling the commonly occurring flare-ups of symptoms, or relapses. I have completed retrospective and progressive survey work with MS patients to evaluate the level of stress in their lives prior to the initial onset and the recurring relapses. Two main hypotheses guided this research. First, a high percentage of MS patients perceived that stress was present in their life prior to symptom onset. Second, a high percentage of MS patients experienced relapses during or immediately following moments of stress. Members of a regional MS Society were randomly selected to participate in this study. Each participant was sent a questionnaire to analyze stressful life events present in the year prior to symptom onset and results showed that there was a high incidence (88.6%) of stressful life events prior to symptom onset in this population. The majority of the research was focused on the progressive study to test for a correlation between stress and the relapse rate, as seen in a change in capacity levels of certain functions commonly affected by multiple sclerosis. Each participant was sent the same questionnaire three times over a course of 18 weeks. The questionnaire consisted of five parts, asking questions in regard to social support, stressful life events, perceived stress, incapacity levels from the Kurtske scale and different ways of coping with MS. There was no significant correlation between stress levels and incapacity levels in this population of MS patients. Most patients perceived that their stress levels, social support levels and coping techniques stayed constant over the 18-week time period, and therefore, none of these had an influence on buffering the effect of stress on the incapacity levels.
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 50-52).
Snow, Michelle Lynn (2001). The effect of stress on the initial onset and relapse rate of multiple sclerosis. Texas A&M University. Available electronically from