Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disorder where the body itself starts attacking the protective covering of the nerve cells. Once this covering gets damaged, it causes diminished functioning of the brain and the spinal cord. It is a progressive disease that is characterized by unpredictable symptoms that tend to vary not only from person to person but also in intensity. While many people experience fatigue and numbness, other, more severe cases of MS experience vision loss, paralysis, and diminishing brain function. Multiple sclerosis affects women more than men and in fact, women are nearly three times more likely to be affected by Multiple sclerosis as compared to men. Today we take a look at some of the common symptoms of multiple sclerosis in women as compared to men.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis, commonly referred to as only MS, is an autoimmune disorder in which the body starts attacking the protective covering of nerve cells. Once this protective covering gets damaged, this leads to a disruption in the functioning of the brain and the spinal cord.
The disease has unpredictable symptoms that tend to vary in intensity. MS or Multiple sclerosis also is known to affect women much more than it affects men. In fact, according to data from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, women are nearly three times more likely to get Multiple sclerosis than men. The disease, thus, also causes symptoms that are specific to women, and some symptoms that are common to both men and women.
Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis Specific to Women
As described above, MS tends to affect women more than men. While the majority of symptoms are the same between both genders, there are certain Multiple sclerosis symptoms that primarily affect women only. These symptoms have been observed to be related to a woman’s hormone levels.
Some experts believe that lower levels of testosterone could play a major role in why women are more likely to get Multiple sclerosis. Others believe that fluctuations in the female hormones during a monthly cycle has a role to play in MS.
While more research is still required to understand the actual cause of the different symptoms between men and women, it has been observed, though, that the major symptoms which affect women suffering from Multiple sclerosis include pregnancy-related problems, menstrual issues, and menopause-related problems.
The biggest differences, obviously, that were observed between men and women having Multiple sclerosis during the period of pregnancy. However, there is some good news for women with MS – studies have shown that having Multiple sclerosis does not affect a woman’s fertility levels. This means that even if you have Multiple sclerosis, it will not prevent you from getting pregnant and delivering a healthy baby. You are also unlikely to face any conception problems due to Multiple sclerosis.
In fact, another good news for women is that during pregnancy, Multiple sclerosis symptoms tend to stabilize or even improve, especially as you move towards the second and third trimester of pregnancy. However, after delivery, a relapse of Multiple sclerosis symptoms is usually observed, with more severe symptoms than you experienced before pregnancy.
Studies have clearly shown that most women tend to experience an increase in the severity of their Multiple sclerosis symptoms when they get their periods. This is believed to be caused by the reduction in estrogen levels during this time. Some of the symptoms that tend to worsen during periods include:
Studies have found that in many women, Multiple sclerosis symptoms start to increase in severity after menopause. As is the case with menstrual symptoms, it is believed that the fall in estrogen levels after menopause is responsible for the worsening symptoms of Multiple sclerosis.
Many researchers believe that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may help provide relief from some of the symptoms for postmenopausal women. However, there are also studies that show that HRT increases the risk of breast cancer, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.
If you are suffering from worsening Multiple sclerosis symptoms after hitting menopause, then it is a good idea to consult your doctor and discuss whether HRT is a viable option for your individual case or not.
Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis that are Similar in Both Women and Men
Apart from the symptoms that are specific to women, most of the Multiple sclerosis symptoms have been observed to be the same for both men and women. However, the severity of nerve damage and location of nerve damage can cause different symptoms. Some of the Multiple sclerosis symptoms that are common to both men and women include:
In a person who suffers from MS, the body’s own immune system starts attacking the nervous system. The immune cells can attack the brain, the optic nerves, or the spinal cord. Due to this, MS patients generally experience many types of muscle-related symptoms such as:
- Muscle spasms
- Weakness or tremors in one or both legs and arms
- Unsteady gait
- Difficulty walking
- Difficulty in moving the arms and legs
- Lack of coordination
- Difficulty in balancing
Eye problems are also common in both men and women, primarily because Multiple sclerosis is known to affect the optic nerves. Eye-related symptoms may include:
- Blurred vision
- Double vision
- Vision loss – either complete or partial usually in one eye only
- Pain while moving the eyes
- Generalized eye discomfort
- Generalized visual difficulties
- Involuntary movements of both the eyes
Symptoms related to the eyes are caused to the presence of MS lesions that form in the part of the brain which controls and coordinates vision.
Bladder and Bowel Symptoms
Bowel symptoms and bladder dysfunction are common symptoms of MS or Multiple sclerosis in both men and women. These problems are typically caused to the dysfunction in the pathways of your nervous system that control the bladder and bowel muscles. Some of the potential bowel and bladder symptoms include:
- Trouble is starting to urinate
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Bladder or urinary tract infections
- Stool or urine leakage
Symptoms of Pain or Numbness
One of the most common symptoms of Multiple sclerosis (MS) in both men and women is feelings of tingling, numbness, and pain. This symptom is generally experienced either in specific parts of the body or throughout the body.
The numbness sensation may also feel like a burning sensation or like ‘pins and needles’. According to studies, nearly half of all MS patients experience some form of pain and numbness during their disease.
While some of the pain symptoms relate directly to MS, other types of pain could be due to how MS affects other parts of the body. For example, suffering from an imbalance of the body may lead to walking problems, which may cause pain in some of the joints of the leg or knee or even the foot.
MS patients often experience trouble speaking or/and swallowing. Some of the common speech problems that men and women can experience include:
- A slowed-down rate of speaking
- Slurred speech
- Poorly articulated speech
- Loss of volume control
- Changes in speech quality, such as a breathless voice or developing a harsh sounding voice
The growth of Multiple sclerosis lesions can also cause trouble in swallowing, chewing, and in moving of the food particles from the front to the back of the mouth. Multiple sclerosis lesions may also impact the body’s ability to easily move food through the esophagus to the stomach.
Impact on the Nerves and the Brain
MS as a disease typically affects the brain, the spinal cord, and the body’s nerves. This is why it is not a surprise that MS causes a range of brain and nerve-related symptoms. These may include:
- Memory loss
- Poor judgment
- Reduced attention span
- Trouble concentrating, reasoning, or problem-solving
- Mood swings
- Balance problems
Even though women are at a much greater risk of developing Multiple sclerosis than men, most of the symptoms of this condition are similar for both the genders. The primary difference between the MS symptoms for men and women seem to be related to hormonal changes and hormone levels in women.
However, regardless of what symptoms you are experiencing, there are certain steps you can take to manage these symptoms and get some relief. Some of these steps include:
- Avoid smoking
- Avoid excessive drinking
- Have a proper diet
- Have a regular exercise schedule
Using long-term medications for managing the symptoms of Multiple sclerosis will also help you feel better. A lifestyle change combined with the correct treatment will help you manage your condition better.
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