My political leanings aside, I give Ann Romney a lot of credit for opening up about her struggles with multiple sclerosis. Her voice is one that desperately needs to be heard: Twice as many women as men are diagnosed with MS, but there is no famous female spokesperson for the wasting illness, no ubiquitous pink ribbon to remember its victims. Not only is Romney finally bringing much-needed attention to what is increasingly being considered a women's disease, she's setting a great example for patients everywhere with her fighting spirit. (For a woman who was once confined to a wheelchair, the mother-of-5 has managed to stay impressively active -- particularly through her involvement with the form of horseback riding known as dressage.)
So now that MS is in the spotlight, what can we learn about it? Why IS it a "women's disease," anyway?
Well, experts aren't completely sure, but research suggests a genetic difference between males and females may be the cause. For example, one study found that women with MS were more likely to have a variation of a gene that produces high levels of a protein which can "aggravate MS by promoting inflammation and tissue damage." The same genetic variation could help to explain why women are more susceptible to other autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis as well.
If you're anything like me, a quick glance at the symptoms (which include fatigue, problems thinking clearly, blurred vision and lack of coordination) is enough to send you into a panic: Oh my god, I have all of those!!! But don't freak out. Most people with MS, which targets the central nervous system, find ways to cope and learn to lead fulfilling and productive lives.
And hopefully, as the public pays more attention to MS (and women with MS in particular), there'll be more research done and more effective treatments developed -- maybe even a cure!
Do you think Ann Romney's public struggle with MS will lead to more research?