Men experience MS differently to women. Here we take a look at those differences
Most of the information available about multiple sclerosis (MS) makes a point of telling us that more women than men are affected by the condition. Statistics claim that MS is at least two to three times more common in women than in men and more recent studies have suggested that the female to male ratio may be as high as 4:1, as the number of women diagnosed with MS increases. But how does the predominantly female related condition affect men?
Ageing with MS
Let’s start by looking at how men with MS age. In a Canadian study of 743 men and women, both sexes were found to have similar average age, years of education, years since MS diagnosis and level of disability. The study said that men were less likely to live alone or have additional health problems, however, older men with MS had a lower perception of their health. They didn’t cope as well with setbacks, rated lower in the participation of household activities such as housework, they were less likely to socialise outside of the home and they also had a poorer diet. Researchers suggested men’s struggle to cope as they grow older with MS could be due to the loss of work. Work brings routine and a reason to socialise with other people on a daily basis. The ratio of male to female respondents for this study was 166:577 respectively, the fact that so few men responded confirms the findings of this study but also isn’t necessarily a fair representation because there were so few responses from men.
MS can affect mental health in a number of ways. Struggling to deal with the diagnosis, and changes in condition or symptoms can all have an impact. A survey commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation and published back in 2016 found that not only are men far less likely than women to seek professional support, they are also less likely to disclose a mental health problem to friends and family.
In a study that looked at how depression, high blood pressure and other chronic conditions may be common at MS diagnosis, men with MS had disproportionately higher levels of depression and anxiety than women with MS.
However, research shows that men are less likely to disclose or seek help with mental health issues. For MSers the first port of call should be their MS nurse. They are experienced in dealing with all MS related issues and can make referrals to get the help and support needed.
Fertility and sex
Though men with MS might experience physical difficulties surrounding sex, studies have shown that the count and quality of sperm are not affected, which means MS will not have a negative impact on an unborn child. However, sexual problems, such as the inability to sustain an erection or delayed ejaculation can have a significant impact on a sexual relationship and the ability to start a family. But fear not, there are some solutions. The biggest barrier is talking about it. Don’t be shy about discussing it with your GP or MS nurse, they understand the importance of the matter and will be able to recommend treatment options. There are a few drugs that can help with erection problems for example.
MS Clinical Nurse Practitioner Miranda Olding says: “Men with MS qualify for the medications Viagra, Cialis, Levitra and Spedra on the NHS, and if they are not suitable, ask to be referred to the local erectile dysfunction clinic, where different options like implants, creams, injections and vacuum pumps can be discussed. Pumps can also be bought privately and work well for many men.”
There are currently no drugs to help with ejaculation issues, “the NHS Choices website mentions that Baclofen can cause delayed ejaculation and that amantadine, bupropion and yohimbine are suggested when this problem is caused by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs),” explains Miranda. “Pseudoephedrine has also shown promise but hasn't been licensed for this use. Interestingly, amantadine is also used for fatigue in MS.”
A lot can also be said for taking the pressure off, relaxing and just having a good time. Try not to focus on what can’t be done and focus more on what can, especially for your partner.
Men have around 10 times more testosterone in their blood than women. It is a hormone which affects sexual development. Both males and females produce the hormone, but those levels fluctuate throughout life. Before puberty testosterone levels in males are low and they start to increase during puberty, levels peak at around the age of 40 and then slowly start to decrease as they age. This is also a similar age that many men are diagnosed with MS, which may or may not be a coincidence. More research is needed to conclude these findings, but one small study of 10 men with relapsing remitting MS, who applied 100mg testosterone gel to the tops of their arms, once a day, for 12 months showed an improvement in cognitive performance and slowing brain atrophy. However, this didn’t change the number or quality of lesions on MRI.
Progressive MS in Men
Studies have shown that when it comes to primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS) the ratio of men to women evens up. In the largest study of hundreds of men and women with PPMS, which spanned decades, researchers found that equal numbers of men and women had the condition under the age of 30. Fewer men than women were diagnosed with PPMS over the age of 50, but usually, symptoms were worse in men than women. However, other studies have shown that symptoms were just as severe and got worse just as fast for men as for women.
More investigation into how men and women are affected by MS is needed in order to personalise both treatment and MS management.
This extract was taken from issue 110 of New Pathways magazine, your MS magazine of choice. To subscribe click here.