MS is much more common in women than men. Women are at least two to three times more likely to develop the disease, reports the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Some studies suggest the gap is even larger.
MS can affect women and men in different ways. Take a moment to learn about some of the key differences.
Sex and gender exist on a spectrum. We use “women” and “men” in this article to reflect the terms assigned at birth. However, gender is solely about how you identify yourself, independent of your physical body.
Although women are more likely to develop MS, the condition tends to progress more quickly and become more severe in men.
According to a summary of research published in 2015, women with MS tend to experience slower cognitive decline than men. They also have higher survival rates.
A recent review found that compared to men with MS, women with the condition may be less likely to experience depression or apathy. On the other hand, women may be more likely to develop anxiety.
MS can negatively affect quality of life in both women and men. But some research suggests that among people with the condition, women tend to report higher health-related quality of life. This suggests that women might have an advantage when it comes to mentally and emotionally adjusting to the condition.
Due to its physical, psychological, and social effects, MS can influence a person’s sex life. It’s common for both men and women with the condition to report challenges related to sex. But there are some differences.
Women with MS are more likely to report reduced sexual desire or interest compared to men. In comparison, men may be more likely to have concerns about their ability to satisfy a sexual partner.
In an international survey published in 2016, roughly 30 percent of men and 42 percent of women with MS reported that lack of sexual interest was a problem for them. Approximately 30 percent of men and 36 percent of women said that achieving orgasm was a problem. And about 29 percent of men and 20 percent of women said that satisfying a sexual partner was an issue.
To reduce the risk of disability and promote quality of life, it’s important for people with MS to practice good self-management. That means taking medications as prescribed, developing strategies for self-care, maintaining strong social support networks, and taking a proactive approach to learning about and managing the condition.
Some research suggests there might be differences in how men and women self-manage MS. For example, a 2015 study found that women achieved significantly higher self-management scores than men. On the other hand, a 2017 study found that women were less likely than men to follow their prescribed treatment plans.
Pregnancy can have noticeable effects on MS. When women are in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, they’re less likely to experience relapse. After they give birth, their risk for relapse rises significantly.
According to a recent review, up to a third of women may relapse within three months of giving birth. Within three to six months of giving birth, their risk for relapse drops to prepregnancy levels.
If a woman does experience a relapse during pregnancy, it can be challenging to manage it. Many medications used to treat symptoms of MS aren’t considered safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women to use. Likewise, none of the disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) used to slow the progression of the disease are approved for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Pregnancy can potentially aggravate certain symptoms of MS. For example, if a woman has balance problems, they might get worse as she gains weight. If she has difficulty controlling her bladder or bowels, the pressure of pregnancy might increase her risk for incontinence. Fatigue can also increase during pregnancy.
Women with MS are more likely than women without the condition to develop depression or other mood disorders. In turn, women with a history of mood disorders are more likely to experience postpartum depression after giving birth.
On average, MS has slightly different effects on the health and well-being of women and men. To learn how your sex might affect your condition, talk to your doctor. Ask them how you can develop good self-management strategies and reduce your risk for complications from the condition.