In Multiple Sclerosis (MS), the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis functioning may be dysregulated, due to the high cortisol levels involved in the disease activity. HPA axis dysregulation can affect cognitive performance, including executive functions. This study aimed to evaluate capillary cortisol and perceived stress, and to verify the association with the performance of EFs in individuals diagnosed with MS and control individuals. Capillary cortisol and perceived stress were evaluated and the association with the performance of healthy individuals (n = 35) and MS (n = 69), most of them with Remitting-Relapsing Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS), with Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) between 0 and 6 were evaluated. Instruments: BADS; WCST; Stroop Test and Perceived Stress Scale. No significant statistical difference was found in the comparison of means among the groups, however, an association was found when using statistical correlation tests between cortisol and cognitive performance in the clinical group (r = 0.31, p = 0.10), and absence of correlations with perceived stress measure. It was possible to observe interaction between group factors and low level of cortisol and problem solving/cognitive flexibility in the MS group. The results indicated that stress measures used in the present study seem to influence the performance of inhibitory control and problem solving/cognitive flexibility, the latter with low levels of cortisol in individuals with MS. We suggest studies that examine different measures of physiological stress and characteristics of the disease.
Keywords: Executive Functioning; Cortisol; Perceived Stress; Autoimmune Disease.