Are You at Risk for Multiple Sclerosis?

If you have a parent or other close relative with multiple sclerosis (MS), you may be worried that youíll develop it, too.

You are at increased risk, but donít let that keep you up at night. MS is a complicated disease and your genes are only one small piece of a much larger puzzle. Most researchers believe it is more likely that a combination of factors, both genetic and environmental, play a role in the development of MS.

The Genetics of Multiple Sclerosis

Researchers at Duke Center for Human Genetics say that MS is not a classic inherited disorder, although evidence suggests a genetic predisposition toward developing the disease. There is increased risk of MS if you have a first, second, or third degree relative with MS.

In general, people in the United States have a one in 750 chance of developing MS. If you have a parent or sibling with MS, your risk increases to one in 40, according to the National MS Society.

It is important to note that you canít accurately assess your risk of developing MS based on genetics alone. Studies of twins show that if you have an identical twin with MS, you only have a one in four chance of developing it yourself. Most people diagnosed with MS do not have a first degree relative with MS.

Environmental Factors in Developing Multiple Sclerosis

There are multiple avenues of research regarding the environmental factors that could possibly trigger MS. It may be one trigger, or it may be the perfect storm of environmental factors that occur in a genetically predisposed individual.

Viral or bacterial infection. Suspected culprits include Epstein-Barr, herpes virus-6, infectious mononucleosis, and Chlamydia, among others. To date, studies have not been able to confirm any of these, but research is ongoing.

Childhood exposure to vitamin D. The incidence of MS is much lower in people who live closer to the equator and rises dramatically in populations further from the equator. Some researchers theorize that vitamin D Ė the kind you get from the sun Ė may play a role. Studies indicate that itís your geographic location before age 15 that makes the difference. However, there are many variables regarding ethnic heritage, diet, and possible exposure to other substances, all of which may be part of the equation. It is a promising avenue of research.

The Bottom Line

If youíre experiencing symptoms of MS, donít jump to conclusions, even if your mother, father, or sibling has MS. Because symptoms mimic those of many other conditions, it is important that you consult with your doctor. If your symptoms are consistent with MS, he or she may refer you to a neurologist for further evaluation.

Nobody can predict with any degree of certainty whether or not you will eventually develop MS.

Related Reading
Invisible Symptoms of MS (video)
Savoring the Privilege of Walking
A Typical Life with Multiple Sclerosis

Photo Credits
Main post photo: photographer & copyright Catherine Yeulet/iStock/Thinkstock
DNA photo: photographer Fuse/Thinkstock
Environmental photo: photographer: Beboy_ltd/iStock/Thinkstock


John S.
Past Member 2 years ago

For some reason 1 in 40 versus 1 in 750 sounds like a pretty good indicator, especially when considering the risk factors of cigarettes are much less. Of course, that's a false statement, someone in your family increase your risk from .1 to 2 -5 depending on how many people in the family has, and if an identical twin has it chances increase to 25%, because what is fascinating is that immigrants and their descendants tend to take on the risk level — either higher or lower — of the area to which they move.

Donna Ferguson
Donna F.2 years ago


Tanya W.
Tanya W.2 years ago


PrimaSICK B.
PrimaAWAY B.2 years ago

june t.
12:14AM PST on Nov 30, 2013
thanks for the article. It's a horrible disease, very unpredictable. More research needs to be done. So little is known about it.

June, exactly. So little is known about it.

PrimaSICK B.
PrimaAWAY B.2 years ago

JoAnn P.
12:19PM PST on Dec 5, 2013
I have MS - there is no cure. I am aware of the risk factors but I don't know if there was anything I could have done to avoid the condition.
JoAnn, You could never have done anything to stop it. They still don't know where it really comes from. It can be hereditary. My mother had it. I have other nerve disorders but I always wonder if I will get it. There's still not enough information on how anyone gets it. You could not have stopped it. I am sorry you have it and I hope you might have it at a lower level than others and I know there are new drugs all the time. Expensive but they are coming out all the time. You could stay at a stand still for a long time with nothing getting worse. I know these diseases are not enjoyable. I suffer from a lot and you are here and you did nothing to get it that any study shows in this world.
TY for the article!!

JoAnn Paris
JoAnn Paris2 years ago

I have MS - there is no cure. I am aware of the risk factors but I don't know if there was anything I could have done to avoid the condition.

Natasha Salgado

Thank you 4 the info.

june t.
june t.2 years ago

thanks for the article. It's a horrible disease, very unpredictable. More research needs to be done. So little is known about it.

Siti R.
Siti R.2 years ago

Chlamydia?? that's a first! interesting article. i hope we we will find a cure. it is a devastating disease.