Is stress a trigger for multiple sclerosis?

Stressful life events and the risk of initial central nervous system demyelination

Saul A, Ponsonby AL, Lucas RM, et al.

Mult Scler 2017; 23:1000-1007



There is substantial evidence that stress increases multiple sclerosis disease activity, but limited evidence on its association with the onset of multiple sclerosis.


To examine the association between stressful life events and risk of first demyelinating event (FDE).


This was a multicentre incident case-control study. Cases ( n = 282 with first diagnosis of central nervous system (CNS) demyelination, including n = 216 with ‘classic FDE’) were aged 18-59 years. Controls without CNS demyelination ( n = 558) were matched to cases on age, sex and study region. Stressful life events were assessed using a questionnaire based on the Social Readjustment Rating Scale.


Those who suffered from a serious illness in the previous 12 months were more likely to have an FDE (odds ratio (OR) = 2.35 (1.36, 4.06), p = 0.002), and when we limited our reference group to those who had no stressful life events, the magnitude of effect became stronger (OR = 5.41 (1.80, 16.28)). The total stress number and stress load were not convincingly associated with the risk of an FDE.


Cases were more likely to report a serious illness in the previous 12 months, which could suggest that a non-specific illness provides an additional strain to an already predisposed immune system.

This reference is cited in the neurochecklist:

Multiple sclerosis (MS): risk factors

Abstract link

Stress. bottled_void on Flikr.

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