Objectives: This trial examined the efficacy of a stress management program in reducing neuroimaging markers of multiple sclerosis (MS) disease activity.
Methods: A total of 121 patients with relapsing forms of MS were randomized to receive stress management therapy for MS (SMT-MS) or a wait-list control condition. SMT-MS provided 16 individual treatment sessions over 24 weeks, followed by a 24-week post-treatment follow-up. The primary outcome was the cumulative number of new gadolinium-enhancing (Gd+) brain lesions on MRI at weeks 8, 16, and 24. Secondary outcomes included new or enlarging T2 MRI lesions, brain volume change, clinical exacerbation, and stress.
Results: SMT-MS resulted in a reduction in cumulative Gd+ lesions (p = 0.04) and greater numbers of participants remained free of Gd+ lesions during the treatment (76.8% vs 54.7%, p = 0.02), compared to participants receiving the control treatment. SMT-MS also resulted in significantly reduced numbers of cumulative new T2 lesions (p = 0.005) and a greater number of participants remaining free of new T2 lesions (69.5% vs 42.7%, p = 0.006). These effects were no longer detectable during the 24-week post-treatment follow-up period.
Conclusions: This trial indicates that SMT-MS may be useful in reducing the development of new MRI brain lesions while patients are in treatment.
Classification of evidence: This study provides Class I evidence that SMT-MS, a manualized stress management therapy program, reduced the number of Gd+ lesions in patients with MS during a 24-week treatment period. This benefit was not sustained beyond 24 weeks, and there were no clinical benefits.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT00147446.