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Women More Vulnerable to Multiple Sclerosis, Research Shows

There has been a sharp increase in the occurrence of multiple sclerosis (MS) among women over time, but rates among men appear to have remained// stable.

Data from a voluntary MS registry shows that while in 1940, twice as many women as men in the U.S. had multiple sclerosis, by 2000, four out of five cases were occurring among women, University of Alabama professor of biostatistics Gary Cutter says.

That represents an increase in the ratio of women to men of nearly 50 per cent per decade, and it mirrors recent findings from other countries with more comprehensive MS registries, including Canada, Norway, and Denmark.

An unpredictable disease of the central nervous system, multiple sclerosis (MS) can range from relatively benign to somewhat disabling to devastating, as communication between the brain and other parts of the body is disrupted.

Multiple sclerosis is widely believed to be an autoimmune disease, a condition in which the immune system attacks components of the body as if they're foreign.

In multiple sclerosis, the body mistakenly directs antibodies and white blood cells against proteins in the myelin sheath, a fatty substance that insulates nerve fibers in your brain and spinal cord. This results in inflammation and injury to the sheath and ultimately to the nerves that it surrounds. The result may be multiple areas of scarring (sclerosis). Eventually, this damage can slow or block the nerve signals that control muscle coordination, strength, sensation and vision.

Multiple sclerosis affects an estimated 300,000 people in the United States and probably more than 1 million people around the world — including twice as many women as men. Most people experience their first signs or symptoms between ages 20 and 40.

It is not clear why the disease rates seem to be increasing only among women, but the observation could help researchers searching for the cause or causes of the disease, Cutter say
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