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MS and How Symptoms Vary with Age, Sex, and Ethnicity

Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on February 4, 2023

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic and unpredictable disease that affects almost 2.5 million people worldwide and around a million people in the US. It is a disease that often leaves patients in chronic pain and with coordination and concentration issues. In severe cases, it can cause tremors or even paralysis or blindness.


While much research has been done to treat MS symptoms, what exactly causes the disease is unclear.


MS symptoms


The symptoms of MS can vary from mild to severe. Often, MS patients will experience an initial symptom of the disease or a sign of relapse, a tightening around the torso known as an “MS hug.” The sensation has been likened to how a blood pressure cuff feels when it tightens. 


Other common symptoms of MS include fatigue, walking difficulties, numbness, tingling, and feelings of weakness, among many other issues.


Who gets MS?


MS patients are usually diagnosed with the disease at a relatively young age. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), most people are diagnosed with MS between 20 and 50. However, it is not uncommon to be diagnosed with MS either earlier or later in life.


Gender and sex also play a large role in who gets MS. Women are believed to be three times more likely to get MS than men. While MS is significantly more common in women than men, it is more prevalent in women of childbearing age than in any other age group.

While MS is found in most ethnic groups, including African Americans and Hispanic Americans, it is typically more common among White Americans of European descent. However, a 2019 paper on the effects of race and ethnicity on MS indicated that MS incidences among African Americans are increasing.


Symptoms differences between women and men


As MS can affect every patient differently, it is impossible to say which symptoms they will experience. Overall, symptoms seem to affect women and men similarly.


The main differences in symptoms between women and men are associated with the hormonal changes that women experience. According to the NMSS, based on the limited research done in the area, MS symptoms may worsen for women around the time of their period. It also found that menopause can see either a worsening or triggering of MS symptoms for many women.


During pregnancy, women typically experience fewer relapses, especially after the first trimester. However, some symptoms, including fatigue, balance, and mobility issues, can worsen during pregnancy.


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Menopause - Complications

Menopause - Complications

The Effect of Age, Sex, and Ethnicity on the Severity of MS Symptoms


According to a recent study, not much research has been done into how age, sex, and ethnicity affect the severity of an MS patient’s symptoms. 


The study took a retrospective sample of 2,622 MS patients treated at two New York City Metropolitan area centers. 73.6% of the patients were women, and all had self-identified as either white, African American, or Hispanic American. 


The results showed certain interesting differences in symptom severity. Men tended to have greater difficulty with walking, while women suffered from higher anxiety and fatigue symptoms.


When it came to ethnicity, symptom severity was higher for African American and Hispanic American patients than for white patients. This is an interesting finding bearing in mind the lower prevalence of the condition among non-White groups.


While the study alone does not provide conclusive evidence of variance in symptoms for sex and ethnicity, it shows a need for further research.


Written by Chaim Ford

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