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New Study: Sexual Function and Satisfaction May be Low and Linked to Other Symptoms in People with MS

April 3, 2023

More than one third of 702 people with MS and minimal disability had low levels of sexual function and satisfaction, in a new study reported by researchers at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. Decreases in sexual function and satisfaction over time were linked to increased disability and increased symptoms such as fatigue and depression.
People with MS and healthcare professionals may hesitate to discuss sexual problems; findings like these highlight how important it is to consider if these are affecting your quality of life, and if you can improve them.
  • Background: Sexual arousal begins with the brain sending messages to the sexual organs along nerves running through the spinal cord. If MS damages these particular nerve pathways, sexual response can be directly affected. MS symptoms such as fatigue, spasticity, or mood changes can also contribute to sexual problems indirectly.
  • This Study: The researchers looked at 702 people with MS who are enrolled in the CLIMB study (Comprehensive Longitudinal Investigation of MS at the Brigham and Women's Hospital), an ongoing study that is following more than 2000 people with MS to figure out what factors affect the course of MS. Participants completed annual questionnaires for several years on quality of life, fatigue and depression. The group included 526 people who self-identified as female and 176 who self-identified as male. The average age was 42, and disability levels were low.
  • Results: Among the 702 participants, 38% reported low sexual function and 45% reported low sexual satisfaction. Being older and having MS longer were linked to sexual problems. Participants whose satisfaction and function decreased over time were more likely to have increased fatigue, depression, or disability over that time period as well. Although all aspects of quality of life were associated with sexual function and satisfaction, there were differences between males and females in the strength of these connections. For example, in women, low sexual satisfaction was strongly linked to fatigue. In men, low function was strongly linked to emotional factors.
  • Why This Matters: This study highlights the importance of discussing sexual problems with healthcare providers, even early in the course of MS before having physical disability. Seeking treatments for potentially modifiable symptoms such as depression or fatigue may help increase sexual function and satisfaction.
Learn more… This study:
Sexual Problems in MS: Sex Differences and Their Impact on Quality of Life” by Drs. T. Kaplan , T. Feldman , B. Healey , M. Behn , B. Glanz , and T. Chitnis, is published in Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders (Published:March 26, 2023).

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.


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