Women’s History Month: How MS and Heart Disease Affect Women

During March, we celebrate women’s history. Making history starts with being healthy. Multiple sclerosis and heart disease are conditions that are affecting women across America. Understanding the severity of these conditions and addressing the symptoms are key to living a healthy life.

Multiple sclerosis among women

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the myelin, or the fatty outer layer that protects nerve fibers in your brain and spinal cord.

MS affects approximately 400,000 people in the U.S. and is twice to three times more common among women than among men, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Women suffering from MS often experience symptoms such as numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, partial or complete loss of vision, slurred speech, dizziness, fatigue, tremors, prolonged double vision, tingling or pain in parts of the body, electric shock sensations, and problems with bladder or bowel function.

The severity of MS symptoms is determined by the location and extent of your damaged nerves. Unfortunately, there is no cure for MS, but you can manage your symptoms to help control attacks.

Factors in women that affect MS include female hormones, pregnancy, and body fat. Because MS is more prevalent in women than men, scientists have turned to sex hormones to determine the cause.

While pregnant women with MS notice reduced symptoms, the symptoms tend to reappear after they give birth. Inflammation caused by body fat and obesity can have negative effects on MS, and levels are higher in women than men.

Tips for managing symptoms from the Can Do Foundation:

  • Doing something relaxing before bed, such as stretching or reading, can help with sleep patterns, giving you more energy throughout the day
  • Keeping a journal can help with symptom management and helps you and your doctor zero in on solutions

The important thing to remember is that you are not alone when it comes to MS. Seek guidance, and take control of your symptoms.

Heart disease among women

Heart disease is the number one killer among women, according to the American Heart Association. Women are also less likely to call 911 when having symptoms of a heart attack. Because of this, heart disease takes the life of approximately one woman every minute.

Causes of heart disease include:

  • Heart failure, when the heart stops pumping regularly so it receives less oxygen
  • Arrhythmia, when the heart is beating irregularly
  • Heart valve problems, when the heart is not opening enough to allow proper blood flow, which can lead to stroke

Women should not overlook the severity of heart disease. According to AARP, symptoms women should look for include:

  • Chest pain that doesn’t go away for a few minutes
  • Pain or discomfort in your arms or shoulders
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness, cold sweat, lightheadedness, or nausea
  • Pain or discomfort in your jaw, neck, or back

Some ways you can prevent heart disease are smoking less, managing your blood sugar, staying active, and eating healthy. It is all about healthy choices in your life and consciously changing your routine for a healthy heart.