Multiple Sclerosis (MS) (cont.)

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What causes multiple sclerosis?

While MS is considered an autoimmune disorder, the exact cause hasn't yet been found. There are many theories regarding the reason that people develop MS; these theories range from vitamin D deficiency to a viral infection. Even consuming too much salt is being looked at as possible cause of MS. However, none of these theories have been proven, and the cause of MS remains unknown. MS is not a contagious condition and cannot be passed from person to person.

What are the risk factors for developing multiple sclerosis?

  • MS occurs predominantly in younger persons, with those aged 15 to 45 most likely to be diagnosed. The average age of diagnosis is about 30 years; however, MS has been identified at all ages. While MS can occur in children, this is very rare.
  • About 2.5 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with MS; of those, about 400,000 live in the United States. Women are about twice as likely as men to develop MS.
  • Genetic factors don't seem to play a large role in MS. Although people who have a first-degree relative with MS have a slightly higher risk of developing MS themselves, this risk is felt to be modest.
  • People who live in northern latitudes (especially Northern European countries) were previously identified as having a higher incidence of MS. However, over the past 30 years, this has begun to change and more cases of MS are now diagnosed in more temperate regions such as Latin America. It has further been identified that living in an area until approximately age 15 seems to give someone the relative risk of developing MS for that area. Persons younger than 15 who move assume the risk of the new location.

Lifestyle factors, for example, diet, exercise, tobacco use are not risk factors for developing MS, unlike conditions in which these risk factors are very important, such as stroke, heart disease, or diabetes.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/15/2015

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