Women who have never given birth are more likely to develop early onset of progressive multiple sclerosis, according to a new study, which also found that a woman’s number of pregnancies showed a positive effect in delaying the disease.
In addition, entering menopause earlier, before the age of 46, is linked with earlier onset of progressive MS, the researchers found.
The study, “Reproductive history and progressive multiple sclerosis risk in women,” was published in the journal Brain Communications.
Being a woman is one of the strongest risk factors for developing multiple sclerosis (MS). Estimates suggest that, after puberty, women are two to three times more likely than men to develop MS.
Furthermore, women are more prone both to develop relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) at a younger age than men and to have more frequent relapses. Conversely, men with RRMS tend to accumulate more disability and in a faster way than women. Thus, men usually enter the progressive MS phase earlier than women. Of note, RRMS can be followed by a progressive phase of the disease called secondary progressive MS (SPMS).
Yet, after the onset of progressive MS, women accumulate disability faster than their male counterparts, reaching the levels of severity seen in men.
Overall, this suggests that both hormonal and environmental factors play a role in the gender differences seen in MS.
The transition from RRMS to SPMS typically occurs in the fifth decade of life, which is when menopause occurs for most women.
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