FRIDAY, Sept. 18, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Pregnancy can delay the onset of multiple sclerosis (MS) by more than three years, researchers report.
The international study found those who'd been pregnant had their first MS symptoms an average of 3.3 years later than those who'd never been pregnant. Having carried a baby to term delayed MS onset by an average of 3.4 years, the researchers determined.
More than 2.5 million people worldwide have MS, which is four times more common in women than men. And MS is frequently diagnosed in women of childbearing years.
These new findings could help improve understanding of the causes of MS and the potential for hormone therapy to delay the onset of symptoms, according to the researchers.
Pregnancy may reduce the abnormal over-activity of the immune system that causes MS, potentially long-term, said study leader Vilija Jokubaitis, of the neuroscience department at Monash University in Australia.
"At present, we don't know exactly how pregnancy slows the development of MS, but we believe that it has to do with alterations made to a woman's DNA. We are now seeking funding opportunities to explore this exciting possibility," she said.
The study included data on more than 3,600 women seen at four MS clinics in Australia and the Czech Republic.
Researchers relied on the MSBase database of people with MS in 35 countries. The database is led by study co-author Helmut Butzkueven, also of the university's department of neuroscience.
The database is invaluable for long-term research into MS, Butzkueven said.
"The data provides a big picture view of MS causes, like this paper, and also helps clinicians decide on the best treatment strategies to prevent long-term disability in MS," Butzkueven noted. "Many of our huge questions need 10 years or more to get the answers, and only long-term systematic registry datasets like MSBase, with buy-in from 10s of 1,000s of patients, can do this."
The study results were published Sept. 14 in the journal JAMA Neurology.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more on multiple sclerosis.
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