Multiple sclerosis is a debilitating neurological disease that attacks the spinal cord and brain. MS causes lesions in the nervous system which eventually results in symptoms that include weakness, loss of strength and shakiness in the extremities. While the cause of the illness is not known, researchers do know that there are some risk factors.
Multiple sclerosis will affect women almost twice as much as it does men. Whites are more than twice as likely as African-Americans or Hispanics to get multiple sclerosis. MS is a rare in Native American tribes of North America and the Australian aborigine. MS is also relatively rare among those of Asian descent. These few examples appeared to support the theory that there is a genetic role in the development of multiple sclerosis.
It appears that the disease is more common in temperate climates such as those in northern United States, Canada and Europe rather than tropical regions or those regions which are extremely cold. Researchers speculate that environment appears to play a role in the disease but have yet to provide conclusive evidence of a direct link.
The disease is often diagnosed in adults who are between the ages of 20 and 50. Children rarely develop multiple sclerosis but when they do the ratio may reach three times as many females as males. Researchers have also found that one out of every 25 siblings of an individual with MS will also be affected. Up to every second identical twin will develop MS but only one of every 20 fraternal twins will develop the disease. If one parent is affected by MS only about one of 40 of the children will eventually develop multiple sclerosis later in life.
There are some studies which indicate that viruses, such as measles herpes and the flu virus, may be associated with multiple sclerosis. However, at this time there has not been any conclusive research evidence which links viruses to the development of the disease.
Researchers have also found that there is some evidence suggesting that hormones, such as sex hormones, are affected by the immune system. During pregnancy the female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone, are very high which may help to explain why pregnant women with MS usually have less disease activity during pregnancy. The higher levels of testosterone in men they also partially account for the fact that women with MS outnumber men by two to one.
In recent research published in July 2007, two different large-scale studies supported by the National Institutes of Health have revealed two different genes that appear to influence the risk of getting multiple sclerosis. Researchers hope that these findings will help to shed new light on the causes of MS, which up until this point appear to be a puzzling mix of genes, environment and immunity.
Because of the importance of a decision about early treatment of this disease, it is significant if individuals, or someone they love, believe that they may have multiple sclerosis, seek the advice and counsel of a health professional as soon as possible.
MayoClinic: Multiple Sclerosis
University of Maryland Medical Center: Multiple Sclerosis
Annals of Neurology: Environmental risk Factors for Multiple Sclerosis
National Multiple Sclerosis Society: Who Gets MS
International Journal of Molecular Sciences: Environmental Risk Factors for Multiple Sclerosis
Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry with Practical Neurology: Risk Factor for Multiple Sclerosis