Multiple sclerosis (MS), a condition that affects the central nervous system, is much more common in females than in males, but there is still a risk.

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male” and “female” to refer to a person’s sex assigned at birth.

According to a 2019 study in Neurology, females develop this autoimmune disease at nearly three times the rate of males.

For this reason, as well as the fact that men tend to delay seeking medical care for MS, males may face longer diagnosis delays and may not receive early treatment.

Read on to learn more about the symptoms of MS in males, treatment options, and more.

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Males are more likely to have certain MS symptoms and disease courses. They can also develop primary progressive MS at higher rates. This form of MS gets progressively worse, without periods of improvement.

Neurodegeneration, where neurons become damaged, is often worse in males and tends to cause more severe symptoms.

Some research suggests that males have more cognitive and thinking-related symptoms, but researchers do not know why. It may be that estrogen, which females usually have higher levels of, protects against some of the damage due to MS.

However, not all differences in the presentation of MS result from biological differences. Some research finds that males are less likely to seek help for MS symptoms. So by the time they see their doctors, there may be more damage to their nervous systems.

Some MS symptoms that may appear in all people, including males, include:

  • unexplained fatigue
  • issues with balance, mobility, or walking
  • unexplained pain, numbness, or tingling
  • involuntary movements, such as twitches or not being able to control the limbs
  • vision problems, which may be the first symptom
  • frequent dizziness
  • problems with bladder or bowel function, including incontinence
  • changes in cognition, such as trouble paying attention or “brain fog
  • anxiety and depression

These symptoms often worsen with time, although many people with MS find that their symptoms may improve, then get worse again. Some symptoms that may appear later in the disease include:

  • swallowing problems
  • trouble breathing
  • speech issues
  • loss of hearing
  • tremors

Researchers have not identified a trigger for MS that would put males at a unique risk for developing the condition.

Most doctors believe that MS is an autoimmune disease, meaning it causes the body’s immune system to attack healthy tissue. It results in chronic inflammation and destroys the myelin that coats the neurons, leading to nerve damage.

Many researchers believe that the immune system’s attack on the nerves begins with an environmental trigger, such as infection or exposure to a dangerous chemical.

Some other potential factors for whether or not a person is likely to develop MS include geographic location, infections, and genetics.

Aside from MS being more prevalent in females, certain risk factors may increase the chances of developing the condition. These may include vitamin D deficiency, smoking, and having obesity.

There have not been any risk factors discovered that would put males at an increased risk for MS.

Some researchers argue that exposure to environmental toxins, allergens, or other chemicals may raise the risk of MS, but scientific data has not provided much support for these ideas.

Treatment of MS is generally the same for all people.

The first line of treatment is to use disease-modifying agents. These drugs suppress the immune system’s response, slowing its attack on nerves.

However, they may also weaken the immune system and increase the risk of infection. Therefore, it is important to discuss the risks and benefits of these drugs and potential alternatives with a doctor.

Healthcare professionals will monitor people taking these drugs and switch their medication if there are serious side effects. In many cases, a person who sees no improvement or experiences serious side effects on one drug may find better outcomes with other drugs.

Treatment plans for MS, regardless of biological sex, can also include:

  • Rehabilitation: Physical, occupational, or speech therapy may help a person regain some function.
  • Emotional support: Psychotherapy, support groups, and supportive friends and family can help a person better manage MS.
  • Disability accommodations: Accommodations at work or school make it easier to lead a normal life.
  • Symptom management: Doctors may recommend other treatments to manage symptoms. For example, a doctor may prescribe pain medicine for chronic pain.
  • Alternative and complementary remedies: Some people find relief through acupuncture, massage, or chiropractic care.

MS is a chronic illness for which there is no cure. However, for many people, treatments may slow or even halt the progression of the disease.

The outlook is generally worse in people who seek treatment later in the course of the disease. This is why it is vital for people to speak with a doctor as soon as they suspect they have MS.

Although the condition is not a terminal illness, complications from the disease can be fatal.

According to a 2015 study, the median age that people with MS survive is 76 years, compared with 83 years among those without the condition. However, researchers also found that men with MS had a higher mortality rate.

Although MS is treatable, many males delay seeking treatment. Delaying care allows the disease to progress, causing more damage to the nervous system.

The causes, symptoms, and treatments of MS do not usually vary between males and females. However, males are more likely to experience certain symptoms of the condition than females.

People who believe they have MS should see a doctor. They can then work with their provider to develop a comprehensive care plan.