Online psychological interventions to improve symptoms in multiple sclerosis: A systematic review

The aim of this systematic review was to assess the effectiveness of Internet-based psychological interventions in the treatment of physical, socio-affective and cognitive symptoms and quality of life (QoL) in people with multiple sclerosis (pwMS) to provide currently available evidence.

Systematic searches for eligible studies were carried out in four databases (August 2021) using key words. Studies were screened, data extracted, quality appraised and analysed by three independent reviewers, using predefined criteria and following the PRISMA rules. Study quality was assessed using Standard Quality Assessment Criteria for Evaluating Primary Research Papers from a Variety of Fields QUALSYST tool. Physical, socio-affective and cognitive symptoms and QoL were the primary outcomes.

Thirteen studies were included. Two principal approaches were reported: Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based interventions (MBI). Interventions varied from tailored versions to videoconference by a clinician, duration mean 8 weeks, delivered via individually and groups, all online. The review found that iCBT interventions were effective for improve depression, anxiety, fatigue and QoL, and slightly in cognitive functioning in pwMS, whereas MBI interventions reported benefits in depression, anxiety, stress and QoL, and less evidence in fatigue. Generally, study quality was acceptable in most studies; eleven of the studies scored a low risk of bias on all items in the Qualsyst Tool, whereas only two studies were considered unacceptable.

Psychological online interventions may improve physical, socio-affective and cognitive symptoms as well as QoL in pwMS, overcoming the face-to-face barriers (i.e. disability). Contact with the therapist and groups sessions have been identified as enablers of the online interventions. Nevertheless, the limited number of studies and the heterogeneity of health outcomes reported made difficult to afford robust conclusions on psychological intervention effects in pwMS.

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