If you have a parent or other close relative with multiple sclerosis (MS), you may be worried that you’ll develop it, too.
You are at increased risk, but don’t 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.
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 can’t 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 – the kind you get from the sun – may play a role. Studies indicate that it’s 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 you’re experiencing symptoms of MS, don’t 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.
Main post photo: photographer & copyright Catherine Yeulet/iStock/Thinkstock
DNA photo: photographer Fuse/Thinkstock
Environmental photo: photographer: Beboy_ltd/iStock/Thinkstock