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Sex differences in multiple sclerosis relapse presentation and outcome: a retrospective, monocentric study of 134 relapse events.

BACKGROUND: Reporting of sex-specific analyses in multiple sclerosis (MS) is sparse. Disability accrual results from relapses (relapse-associated worsening) and independent thereof (progression independent of relapses).

OBJECTIVES: A population of MS patients during relapse treated per standard of care was analyzed for sex differences and short-term relapse outcome (3-6 months) as measured by Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) change.

DESIGN: Single-center retrospective study.

METHODS: We analyzed 134 MS relapses between March 2016 and August 2020. All events required relapse treatment (steroids and/or plasma exchange). Demographic, disease, and paraclinical characteristics [cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)] were displayed separated by sex. Multivariable linear regression was run to identify factors associated with short-term EDSS change.

RESULTS: Mean age at relapse was 38.4 years (95% confidence interval: 36.3-40.4) with a proportion of 71.6% women in our cohort. Smoking was more than twice as prevalent in men (65.8%) than women (32.3%). In- and after-relapse EDSSs were higher in men [men: 3.3 (2.8-3.9), women: 2.7 (2.4-3.0); men: 3.0 (1.3-3.6); women: 1.8 (1.5-2.1)] despite similar relapse intervention. Paraclinical parameters revealed no sex differences. Our primary model identified female sex, younger age, and higher EDSS at relapse to be associated with EDSS improvement. A higher immunoglobulin G (IgG) quotient (CSF/serum) was associated with poorer short-term outcome [mean days between first relapse treatment and last EDSS assessment 130.2 (79.3-181.0)].

CONCLUSION: Sex and gender differences are important in outcome analyses of MS relapses. Effective treatment regimens need to respect putative markers for a worse outcome to modify long-term prognosis such as clinical and demographic variables, complemented by intrathecal IgG synthesis. Prospective trials should be designed to address these differences and confirm our results.

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