Is MS passed on genetically?

Last Editorial Review: 10/10/2017

Ask the experts

Is multiple sclerosis passed on genetically?

Doctor's response

While multiple sclerosis 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 causes. However, none of these theories have been proven, and the cause of MS remains unknown. It's not contagious, and can't be passed from person to person.

Genetic factors don't seem to play a large role in the disease. Although people who have a first-degree relative with MS have a slightly higher risk of developing it 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 the disease. However, over the past 30 years, this has begun to change and more cases 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. People 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 this disease, unlike conditions in which these risk factors are very important, such as stroke, heart disease, or diabetes.

For more information, read our full medical article on multiple sclerosis symptoms, signs, treatment, and prognosis.

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