(CBS) A new study released on Multiple Sclerosis – or MS – shows that the disease is affecting double the women it was 20 years ago. The ratio of women to men with MS has increased to 4 to 1. Researchers believe that more men now suffer from MS as well. But the study, which included over 30,000 patients, has some experts questioning whether the numbers are really up, or if modern technological advances are making it easier to diagnose the disease.
MS is a neurological autoimmune disease, which means the brain mistakenly identifies it’s own parts as foreign objects and the immune system begins to attack them, much like the body would do with a bacterial infection or a virus. Symptoms of MS can include fatigue, weakness, blurred vision and loss of sensation. According to CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook, “In the last two decades, there’s been greater use of brain scans called MRI’s, which detect white spots indicating nerve damage.”
According to Dr. Saud Sadiq of the MS Research Center of New York, in the past, men and women were often treated differently when they presented with symptoms of MS. “Men would be taken more seriously,” says Dr. Sadiq, whereas women were often told their problems were purely psychological.
Autoimmune diseases are known to effect women more commonly than men, and researchers are looking into some possible explanations. Some theories say that certain factors that are unique to females – like birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy and pregnancy – could make an autoimmune response more likely.
According to Dr. LaPook, the study indicates that doctors should be more aware of MS symptoms in women. An early diagnosis can result in earlier treatment, which in turn, results in better management of the disease. There are six FDA approved medications to treat MS on the market today.