In a cross-sectional study, researchers found that sexual dysfunction in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) is linked to fatigue and depression. Treating these factors and identifying their causes is a potential strategy to treat the problem.
The study, “Sexual function in multiple sclerosis and associations with demographic, disease and lifestyle characteristics: an international cross-sectional study,” was published in the journal BMC Neurology.
Patients with MS are very often affected by sexual dysfunction, enhancing the burden of the disease, especially in younger patients. While MS can affect sexual function through a variety of mechanisms, both direct and indirect, the exact causes are still a matter of debate.
Now, a team of researchers aimed to determine the prevalence of sexual dysfunction and satisfaction with sexual function in an international sample of patients with MS recruited online as part of the HOLISM study. The team looked particularly at the link between disease characteristics, fatigue, depression risk, and demographics, with sexual function and satisfaction.
To this end, researchers analyzed patients’ demographics, lifestyle, and disease characteristics, and included specific sexual function questions. In total, 2,062 patients with MS from 54 countries completed the questionnaire on sexual function. A major fraction of the participants were women (81.1 percent), with a mean age of 45 years, and with relapsing-remitting MS (62.8 percent).
The majority of the participants (54.5 percent) reported one or more problems with sexual function, and were classified as having sexual dysfunction. The most common manifestation included lack of sexual interest (41.8 percent of women) and difficulty with erection (40.7 percent of men).
Researchers registered a median total sexual function score of 75 out of 100, and 43.7 percent of MS participants were found to be satisfied with their sexual function.
Additionally, the team found independent factors linked to sexual function and satisfaction, including age, risk for depression, use of antidepressants, and fatigue.
In conclusion, the results suggest an association between sexual dysfunction and risk for depression and fatigue, and also to modifiable lifestyle factors, such as diet and physical activity. Therefore, authors suggest that addressing depression and fatigue, and the causes underlying them, may ultimately help patients overcome and even prevent sexual dysfunction.