When I get stressed my MS definitely acts up. What happens in my brain when I get stressed. Why does it make my MS worse?
It is certainly true that chronic stress activates multiple sclerosis and stress management reduces MRI measures of MS activity and improves symptoms. David Mohr at Northwestern published clinical trial results in 2012 demonstrating a very significant reduction in both enhancing lesions and new T2 lesions (white spots) on the MRIs of people with MS randomized to 16 weeks of stress management. The exact mechanism responsible for the worsening of MS and other physical and mental health conditions with chronic stress is linked to the effects of chronic stress on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis which is generally linked to chronic low level elevations in cortisol.
Notice how I have specifically referred to chronic stress throughout this answer. Acute stress has a number of beneficial effects just like acute short courses of corticosteroids can be beneficial in MS patients.
Revere (Rip) Kinkel MD
Director of the Multiple Sclerosis Program
Professor of Clinical Neurosciences
University of California San Diego