Men vs Women & Comorbidities

As if it’s not enough for so many of us to have multiple sclerosis, researchers from Canada have found evidence that we also have more than our fair share of other chronic diseases (comorbidities) to go with our MS. In a newly published study, Sex differences in comorbidity at diagnosis of multiple sclerosis: A population-based study, a research team led by Ruth Ann Marrie, MD, looked at the health conditions of over 23,000 people with MS at the time of their diagnosis compared to 116,638 people as matched controls (same sex and same age, but without multiple sclerosis). Their report focuses on the comorbidities of people who also have MS.

Some of their findings weren’t a surprise; I have talked often about how the rate of depression is higher in people with MS compared to a non-MS group. They also found a higher rate of other mental illnesses in the MS group, and that includes bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. These increased problems with mental health make a lot of sense since MS is sitting in our brains, eroding the connections and creating havoc. But this study may be the first one that shows that psychiatric disorders, particularly depression, are present at a higher rate when we are first diagnosed that our peers – in other words, the depression was diagnosed before the MS.

What did surprise me was the lengthy list of other conditions they compared and found were more prevalent in people with MS. They focused on what conditions people may have had at the time of their diagnosis to create their list. The chronic diseases they found include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, chronic lung disease, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The results of their study showed people with MS have higher rates of all of these chronic diseases except for high cholesterol; at least those of us with MS can claim better health in one area.

The percentage of people with MS experiencing these other chronic diseases was almost always higher among men than women, except for chronic lung disease. In the lung disease comparison, women with MS were higher than the men. 39% more women with MS had lung disease compared to their female counterparts, but that number drops to 21% for men with MS vs healthy men.

In the brief reports I could find on this study that has just been published in Neurology, I didn’t find a reason what may lead to these differences and Dr. Marrie writes further study should be done to try understand the differences of the sexes.

Their findings do include a startling difference in blood pressure:

  • The blood pressure of men with MS was 48 percent higher than men without MS
  • The blood pressure of women with MS was 16 percent higher than women without MS.

It leaves me to wonder if this is because of some physical problem or if it is because living with MS can be stressful, which would elevate the blood pressure. As usual, there isn’t a clear answer as to what causes these differences. I trust Dr. Marrie and her team of researchers will take a deeper look at these differences in populations, both MS vs healthy controls, as well as men vs women, to see if there are other factors at play to create this difference in comorbidities. In the meantime, this study is another reminder that just because we have multiple sclerosis, it doesn’t make us immune to other chronic diseases and we have to remain attentive to our overall health and not just focus on our MS.1

Wishing you well,


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