A recent study from the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, tested this relationship in a population study of Danish citizens born between 1950 and 1992. Researchers from the Statens Serum Institut in Denmark looked for any associations between stressful life events and risk of MS. The study specifically looked at events such as divorce or the loss of a spouse or child as events likely to cause severe stress. The researchers concentrated only on severely stressful events, because mildly stressful events can often have a profoundly different impact between individuals and would make the results more difficult to interpret.
In their first analysis the authors looked at the risk of MS following the loss of a child, and found no evidence for increased risk in either males or females. The second analysis looked at the impact of divorce or widowhood, and among almost 500,000 males and females who experienced this type of stressful event, there was also no increase in the risk of subsequently developing MS. In their analyses, the authors statistically accounted for a range of potentially important factors that could confound the results, such as age at first child birth, urbanisation, level of education, marital status, number of children, and income level. Even after taking into account all of these factors, there was still no significant relationship between stress and MS risk.
This very large study provides important new evidence to suggest that risk of MS is not increased by traumatic or demanding life events. This is an important step towards understanding the interaction between the social, environmental, and biological factors that intertwine to cause MS.