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5 Possible Causes Of Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Causes Of Multiple Sclerosis

While it's not entirely clear what causes multiple sclerosis, there are certain factors that determine your risk of developing it. These include your genes, family history of MS, and certain immune-mediated responses. Low vitamin D levels have also been implicated in MS. Whether or not you’re a smoker and whether you’ve been exposed to certain viruses like the Epstein Barr virus that causes glandular fever are also risk factors.

There are an estimated 2.3 million people around the world currently living with multiple sclerosis (MS). Even though awareness of the disease is growing, not enough is known about what exactly causes MS. If you have MS you may experience muscle weakness and issues with balance and coordination, memory problems, visual disturbances, numbness, and pins and needles or a prickling sensation in your body. In more severe cases, those with MS could lose the ability to speak, write, and walk.1

Multiple Sclerosis Is An Autoimmune Condition

The myelin sheath surrounding your nerve cells, meant to protect them, gets damaged if you have this nervous system disease. This takes place when your body’s own immune system starts an inflammatory response in the central nervous system. Your spinal cord and the brain are affected as a result, slowing down messages flowing between the body and the brain.

And while the medical community has not been able to pin down a specific cause or trigger, some risk factors are linked to the appearance of MS.

1. Genes And Family History

While MS isn’t seen as a hereditary disease, your genes do play some part in your risk of developing the condition – specifically genes linked to some components of your immune system. Data indicates that someone with relatives who have MS is at higher risk of having it themselves. If those relatives are your own parents or siblings, the risk becomes slightly higher. If an identical twin has MS, you have a 20 to 30 percent chance of developing it. However, genes alone don’t determine MS risk. There are other factors at play too. If not, due to the shared genetic material, identical twins should both have MS if one has it.2

2. Immunological Factors

The attack of the myelin coating on nerve fibers in MS is the result of an abnormal immune-mediated response. Until recently, all that was known was that certain immune cells in the body launch the attack on the central nervous system. But recent research has been able to identify some of these cells as well as what makes them attack us. Research is still ongoing but once this is completed, we may have methods to either stop or at least slow the progress of this abnormal immune response.3

3. Smoking

Smoking too has a role to play in your risk of developing MS. While research has not established a direct cause–effect relation, there is an increased risk associated with smoking – if you’re a smoker, you have twice the risk of having MS compared to someone who doesn’t smoke.4 Cumulative exposure to smoking raises relative risk as well. So if you’ve been smoking for 1 to 9 years, the MS risk is lower than if you were smoking for 10–24 years, and higher still if you have smoked for over 25 years.5

4. Low Vitamin D Levels

MS is more common in countries away from the equator, leading to a hypothesis that the limited exposure to sunlight and, consequently, low vitamin D levels in the body could somehow be linked to the risk of MS.6 Vitamin D also has immunomodulatory effects. These factors combined have caused this theory to gain momentum.

It is being suggested that vitamin D supplementation in healthy people, especially in young adulthood or late adolescence, could help possibly lower MS risk.7

5. Exposure To Specific Infections

Early exposure to certain bacteria, microbes, or viruses could play a role in determining MS risk too. Viruses or bacteria which are known causes of inflammation as well as demyelination already may also trigger the immune response that brings on MS. Some of the possible offenders being studied for a connection are measles, Epstein-Barr virus, Chlamydia pneumonia, canine distemper, and the human herpes virus-6.

What is important to note, however, is that no firm link has been established as yet as the studies have been smaller or restricted in scope. Larger, more extensive research is needed to confirm the connection of these possible triggers.8

References   [ + ]

1. Multiple Sclerosis. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
2. MS. MS International Federation.
3, 8. What Causes MS?. National Multiple Sclerosis Recipe.
4, 6. Multiple Sclerosis. National Health Service.
5. Hernán, Miguel A., Michael J. Oleky, and Alberto Ascherio. “Cigarette smoking and incidence of multiple sclerosis.” American journal of epidemiology 154, no. 1 (2001): 69-74.
7. Ascherio, Alberto, Kassandra L. Munger, and K. Claire Simon. “Vitamin D and multiple sclerosis.” The Lancet Neurology 9, no. 6 (2010): 599-612.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.