Women and MS Report | Working Mother

Women with MS: What's Working Today

For our new WMRI survey, we asked 1,248 women with multiple sclerosis to share how the disease affects their work and personal lives. Here we reveal what they had to say.

Women and MS square

Our report on women and multiple sclerosis.


Click here to download the full report, Women and MS.

Multiple sclerosis, a chronic, unpredictable disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord, exacts a heavy toll on women. Nearly four times as many women as men develop the disease, which affects at least 400,000 people
 in the United States.

The disease is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, striking women just as they are building careers and families. Living with it is a roller coaster: the disease can appear nearly invisible or flare into an acute attack in which a woman experiences mild to severe impairment of vision, mobility or cognitive function.

Though there is no cure for MS, huge advances have been made in the last two decades, says Nicholas LaRocca, PhD, vice president of health care delivery and policy research for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. “Not long ago, doctors often felt that there was little they could do for a woman diagnosed with MS—sometimes the patient wasn’t even told directly,” he says. “Now, the trend is to be open about the diagnosis and proactive in treatment.”

For these reasons, the Working Mother Research Institute (WMRI) set out to discover how living with MS affects women’s work and personal lives today. For our study, we surveyed 1,248 women between ages 20 and 50 who have been told by a health professional that they have MS.

Our survey shows that most affected women cope with the impact of MS daily. Eight in 10 women surveyed say they’re currently experiencing symptoms or have in the past three months. (The most common symptoms are fatigue, numbness and tingling; about 60 percent report difficulty with thinking or memory.) Our data reveal how tough it is to juggle a career, family and MS: Three quarters of respondents are concerned about their future, 70 percent wonder if they will be able to continue working, and half say they worry constantly about relapsing.

Despite the fact that they live with unknowns about how far and fast the disease will progress, our survey finds that today’s women with MS are proactive about treatment. The majority of respondents (85 percent) describe themselves as knowledgeable about treatment options, and 79 percent say they’re on disease-modifying medication for symptoms.

“When people find out I have MS, I see their faces fall. Automatically, they imagine I’m headed for a wheelchair,” says Andrea Sparkman Lindsley, a senior vice president for an advertising and public relations firm and mom of one daughter. “I tell them the statistics of MS are changing. I’m taking good care of myself. I’m partnering with my doctor on the right treatment plan.”

Click here to download the full report, Women and MS.


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