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No one should tell women who complain about headaches or trouble moving that it’s all in their head. It turns out that women are more susceptible than men to some neurological conditions, including multiple sclerosis (MS) and migraines. In fact, they are twice as likely to suffer from MS (a degenerative disease of the nervous system that impairs vision, strength, and coordination) and three times as likely to suffer from migraines (which cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound).
The probable source of the trouble: hormones. Interestingly, though pregnancy can exacerbate many health problems, it actually decreases relapse of MS symptoms, says Dr. Susan Rubin, a neurologist at the NorthShore Neurological Institute, part of the NorthShore University HealthSystem. Pregnancy, she explains, is a quieter time when hormones are steady, not fluctuating. To try to mimic this state, which is without the hormonal ups and downs that women normally experience during and after ovulation each month, Rubin and her colleagues are giving extra estriol (the type of estrogen that rises in pregnancy) to patients in their ongoing two-year study on the hormone’s effect. (For more information, visit northshore.org.)
To fight headaches, Rubin often gives women continuous contraceptives that prevent menstruation and keep hormone levels even throughout the month.
NorthShore doctors are not specifically studying women with epilepsy, another neurologic disease, but they are treating them. Though epilepsy hits both genders equally, it’s a bigger deal for women of childbearing years since medications that treat it can hurt fetal development.
HEART DISEASE | FERTILITY | PREGNANCY | BREAST AND OVARIAN CANCER
CERVICAL AND ENDOMETRIAL CANCER | OSTEOPOROSIS
HEADACHES, MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS, AND OTHER NEUROLOGIC DISORDERS | DEPRESSION
EATING DISORDERS | INCONTINENCE | IMMUNE DISORDERS | SLEEP DISORDERS