Regular Health Check-Ups Important for Women with MS

Medically Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD
From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 29, 2001 -- Multiple sclerosis can disrupt your life in many ways, but that's no reason to neglect the regular health check-ups -- preventive care -- that all women need and deserve. Armed with the right information, you can be sure you're getting the tests and examinations that will keep you feeling your best.

Preventive healthcare such as mammography and cholesterol screening saves lives, and because women with MS can expect to live just as long as women without MS, it is equally important that they find and treat other illnesses at the earliest possible stage.

But women who have trouble getting around due to MS symptoms are not getting the care they need when it comes to disease prevention, according to a new study. Although these findings might not seem surprising, it highlights the need for both women with MS and their doctors to be educated on proper preventive care.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, reviewed questionnaires from over 700 women with MS on how often they had preventive tests such as mammograms, Pap smears, and breast exams.

They also looked at how often women had blood pressure checks, cholesterol tests, and how often their doctor talked to them about lifestyle habits such as diet and smoking.

The findings weren't all bad news: Despite having MS, these women often did have Pap smears, breast exams, and mammograms. They also received blood pressure and cholesterol checks. But, the researchers found that preventive testing was much less likely when women with MS had difficulty getting around.

Overall, women who were able to walk -- alone or with assistance -- were much more likely to get preventive care than women who could not walk. But, regardless of how well they could walk, women with MS still did not get as much preventive care as the general population -- a worrisome finding.

Researchers are not quite sure why women with MS are not having these necessary tests. They offer some possible explanations:

  • Doctors may believe that women with MS do not live long enough to worry about preventive health checkups, although some of the study results, for example the use of blood pressure and cholesterol tests, don't support this explanation.
  • Women with MS may be reluctant to undergo testing that could be uncomfortable or embarrassing.
  • Medical systems cannot always accommodate women with mobility impairments, who may require extra time and specialized equipment.

The researchers write that we need to find the reason for this discrepancy since women with MS can benefit from preventive care as much as women without MS.

Until the reason is found, however, you should do everything you can to assure yourself that you are getting the preventive care that you need. Medical treatment is a team approach -- between you and your doctor. Studies like this should empower people with lifelong medical problems to become an active participant in their healthcare -- even if this means you letting your doctor know when it's time for your next Pap smear or mammogram.

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