The effects of prayer and spirituality on multiple sclerosis (MS) have not been rigorously studied. One frequently described case of MS that appeared to respond dramatically to prayer and faith involved Rita Klaus. Klaus was a nun who was diagnosed with MS in 1960, at the age of 20. Because of the effects of her illness, she was given dispensation of her vows and left the convent. She eventually married and had three children.
Her disease progressed significantly over the years. She wore leg braces, required the use of a wheelchair, and eventually had surgery on her knees to relieve some of the severe stiffness or spasticity in her legs. Her religious faith dwindled with the progression of her disease. She became skeptical of God and religion in general.
At the urging of her husband, she became more committed religiously, prayed regularly, and developed a renewed and more mature faith. Then, one evening in 1986, 26 years after her diagnosis of MS, she prayed for healing of her disease. The following morning, she had unusual warm and itching sensations in her legs. She was able to move her legs and then get out of her wheelchair and walk. The surgical changes in her knees were no longer apparent.
Klaus has not had any recurrent symptoms of MS since that day in 1986. By this account, her MS became inactive, and she also recovered fully from the significant injury to her nervous system that had occurred over the course of 26 years. She returned to her job as a schoolteacher and now gives public lectures on her remarkable experience. Her physician, Dr. Donald Meister, reported that her neurologic examination returned to normal. He is unable to explain her recovery. A urologist found that her urinary system, which had been very abnormal, returned to normal function. The medical documentation of her recovery is reportedly under review by the Vatican.
At the Rocky Mountain Multiple Sclerosis Center, we conducted a survey of spirituality and prayer in more than 1,000 people with MS. The vast majority of the respondents (90 percent) stated that they believed in
God. Within this group, more people (43 percent) believed that God did not play a role in their having MS than believed that God did play a role (28 percent). Of those who believed God played a role in their having MS, a very small percentage (3 percent) thought that MS was a punishment from God. The majority (90 percent) of those who thought that God played a role in their having MS believed that MS was an opportunity from God. Most of the survey respondents (86 percent) stated that they were spiritual. Also, the majority believed in miracles (80 percent) and believed that MS had made them more spiritual (58 percent). In the area of prayer, most of the respondents (87 percent) prayed, and one-half (50 percent) believed that prayer helped control their MS. Areas that were most commonly reported to improve with prayer were anxiety, uncertainty about the disease, and depression. The full results of this survey and a review of the survey results may be viewed on the CAM website of the Rocky Mountain Multiple Sclerosis Center, www.ms-cam.org.
A large, formal clinical study has been conducted in the Midwest to evaluate more fully the subject of prayer in MS. This study of more than 200 people with MS is evaluating the effects of intercessory prayer on physical disability and quality of life. Two groups, are participating in the study, one of which is receiving prayer while the other is not. The results of the study have not yet been published.
Variable results have been obtained in studies of the effects of prayer on other medical conditions. Anxiety and depression, which may occur with MS, may be reduced in those who pray. For anxiety, a therapeutic effect of prayer could be due to the fact that prayer, like meditation, elicits relaxation (see the chapter on "Meditation").
One active area of investigation is the possible influence of intercessory prayer on people with various medical conditions. Interest in this area was stimulated by a widely known study that was conducted in a coronary care unit in San Francisco (1). This 1988 study of nearly 400 people found that those who were prayed for experienced fewer complications, including heart failure, respiratory problems, and use of some types of medication. No effect of prayer was noted on the death rate or the length of hospital stay. This study has been criticized for many reasons, including statistical flaws.
Reviews of the various studies of intercessory prayer have been published (2,3). These reviews conclude that promising results have been obtained, but that the studies have had deficiencies, the results have been variable, and, overall, the results are not definitive. These reviews recommend that further research be conducted in this area through clinical studies using improved methodology.
The effects of spirituality on MS have not been investigated formally. However, religious involvement and spirituality may be beneficial for anxiety and stress, which may occur with MS. In some, but not all studies, religious involvement has been associated with decreased depression. Religious involvement and spirituality also may improve quality of life, decrease the risk of developing some diseases (including high blood pressure and heart disease), decrease mortality rates, and improve coping with or recovery from illness.
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