Multiple sclerosis: are women more affected?

Published 13 Mar 2023 • By Candice Salomé

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system and leads to lesions causing motor, sensory, cognitive, visual or sphincter disturbances. 

Today, 3 out of 4 patients are women. In the 50s and 60s, the ratio was 2 women to 1 man. So why are more and more women affected by multiple sclerosis? What are the causes? 

We tell you everything in our article!

Multiple sclerosis: are women more affected?

What is multiple sclerosis (MS)?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system - the brain and spinal cord. MS causes a disruption in the immune system that attacks the myelin, the protective covering of nerve fibers. The symptoms of MS vary greatly from patient to patient, and they also change over a lifetime in the same patient. They depend on the area of the spinal cord or brain affected by the disease. But we can find the following symptoms:

  • Motor disorders. These are related to muscle weakness and can affect the upper and/or lower limbs, thus reducing the patient's ability to move properly, 
  • Sensory disorders such as numbness, pain, tingling... 
  • Visual symptoms: double vision or a decrease in visual acuity, 
  • Balance, coordination or dizziness problems, 
  • Urinary and sexual disorders
  • Cognitive problems such as difficulty concentrating, memory problems, cognitive slowing down...

According to the MS Society, there are over 130,000 MS patients in the UK, and each year, just under 7,000 new cases are identified. Following this, 130 people in the UK are diagnosed with MS per week, or roughly one in every 500 people has the condition.

It affects mostly women (3 women for one man) for the most frequent form, the relapsing-remitting form (85% of MS patients).

Why are women increasingly affected by multiple sclerosis (MS)? 

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects mostly women. But this trend is only becoming more pronounced over the years. According to neurologist Thibault Moreau, there are now 3 women with multiple sclerosis for every 1 man. In the 50s and 60s, it was 2 women affected for 1 man. According to the researchers, multiple sclerosis is a multifactorial condition that combines genetic factors - although it is not a hereditary disease - and environmental factors

These environmental factors could explain why women are more and more concerned by multiple sclerosis. They could be related to lifestyle changes. As Crete is genetically homogeneous, the scientists who conducted this study suggested that the increase in MS cases in women was associated with the shift from a rural to urban lifestyle.

In 2012, the U.S. journal Neurology published the results of a study examining the increase in the proportion of women with MS in Crete between 1980 and 2008. In this study, the increase in multiple sclerosis cases in women was mostly in women living in cities

As a result, for women, urbanization had led to: 

  • An increase in smoking
  • More frequent use of contraceptives and later pregnancies
  • A change in diet. For example, fresh local goat's milk has been replaced by industrially produced pasteurized cow's milk. 

In addition, according to neurologist Catherine Lubetzki, who heads a research team at the Institute of the Brain and Spinal Cord (ICM), obesity is also a risk factor for developing multiple sclerosis

Another risk factor is the level of sunlight. In fact, in the northern hemisphere, farthest from the equator, multiple sclerosis is more prevalent. 

Another, more recent study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), showed that men are less affected by multiple sclerosis than women because they produce more testosterone, a hormone that would seem to protect them to some extent against MS.

Multiple sclerosis: earlier treatment than before?

Even if multiple sclerosis cannot be cured, treatment can nevertheless reduce the symptoms. Thanks to the treatments that have appeared in the last twenty years, patients' quality of life has improved

In addition, thanks to advances in imaging, the diagnosis and therefore the management of multiple sclerosis are much earlier than before

In addition, medical research on multiple sclerosis has led to a better understanding of the disease. In the 1960s, doctors forbade women with MS from having children. Now it has been shown that there is no risk. Patients can make plans for life with multiple sclerosis. Here are some suggestions that can help you gain more self-assurance!

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Take care!  



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