Multiple sclerosis patients who actively confront their problems in times of extreme stress are less likely to suffer attacks, according to an Israeli study.


Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash 90.
The study found that patients with MS who took practical measures during the Second Lebanon War, like stocking up with food and drink, were less likely to experience MS attacks.

A new Israeli study suggests that patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) could experience less attacks during times of stress if they directly and actively confront their problems rather than just focusing on emotional issues.

About one in 700 people worldwide suffers from MS, an autoimmune disease which affects the central nervous system. There is no cure for the debilitating disease, which can cause cognitive problems, blindness, loss of speech, and partial or complete paralysis, but drugs like Copaxone by Israel’s Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, can help slow it down and control symptoms.

The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Haifa, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Carmel Medical Center, examines how MS sufferers living in the north of Israel during the Second Lebanon War, coped during this difficult time. Hundreds of missiles rained down on Israel from Lebanon and Gaza during the 34-day war in the summer of 2006, killing 44 Israelis, and wounding 4,262.

In an earlier, first-stage study, which was recently published in the scientific journal Multiple Sclerosis, it was discovered that MS patients exposed to rocket fire saw a marked increase in the frequency of attacks.

In the second stage of the study, however, the scientists discovered that patients who directly confronted the causes of their stress suffered fewer attacks than those who focused solely on coping with their feelings during the war.

The study of 156 patients who undergo regular therapy at the Center for Multiple Sclerosis at the Carmel Medical Center showed that patients who chose to use “direct coping and planning” to counter the stress factor – by preparing the shelter or protected area, stocking up on food and medications, adjusting their medical appointment schedule, and the like – suffered significantly less exacerbation of MS symptoms than patients who chose to cope with the situation on an emotional level, with relaxation techniques, requests for emotional support, or prayer.

“Patients who focused their coping on emotional wellbeing when a more direct approach was necessary, suffered more flare-ups of the disease than patients who identified the challenges that the falling missiles were presenting, and regarded the situation as an opportunity for planning and direct action,” says Prof. Eli Somer of the University of Haifa, one of the authors of the study.

Somer carried out the study with Dr. Daniel Golan, Sara Dishon, Limor Cuzin-Disegni, Dr. Idit Lavi of Carmel Medical Center and Prof. Ariel Miller of the Technion.

The study also found that women with MS tended to turn to emotional support, religion and willfully diverting thoughts more than men do. Nevertheless, there was no difference between the numbers of men and women who chose “direct coping and planning.”

“Coping directly is how a person takes real action in order to change an unwanted situation,” says Somer. “Multiple sclerosis patients who chose to view the war as a controllable situation that requires action, instead of seeing it as an uncontrollable threat, suffered fewer attacks of the disease.”

“Because there is no cure for multiple sclerosis to date, it is important to uncover all the factors that impact the recurrence of attacks,” he adds.

The researchers now plan to investigate whether the acquisition of psychological coping skills can stall the progression of this disease.

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