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risk factors for MS


Early detection is very important for any disease diagnosis. With Multiple Sclerosis, it gives you the opportunity to start a treatment plan early that may help with slowing the progression of the disease.

Symptoms of MS vary widely from person to person and can closely mimic other disease symptoms. Lesions don’t always appear on MRIs in the early stages of the disease, which can also complicate the diagnosis. Being aware of the potential risk factors and if you fall into the high-risk category — for any disease — is crucial.

Below are the top potential risk factors for developing MS, taken from the National MS Society’s website:

  • Age: MS is more likely to appear between the ages of 20 to 50 years old, but can occur at any age.
  • Gender: Women are more likely to develop MS than men; 4:1 is the ratio listed.
  • Ethnicity: MS seems to be more prominent in the white Northern European ethnic group.
  • Environment: Those living closer to the Earth’s poles have a higher risk than those located near the equator. The amount of sun a person receives seems to be the difference. Vitamin D from the sun aids in immune repair.
  • Smoking: Smoking greatly increases the risk of MS and can cause more rapid MS progression.
  • Viruses: Viruses that occur in childhood can be a factor in MS, such as mononucleosis (Epstein-Barr virus).
  • Genetics: Even though MS is not considered hereditary, if you have a parent or sibling with MS your risk of developing MS is approximately 5%.

Looking at my history and the risk factors listed above, I realize that I was in the high-risk category to develop MS all along and didn’t even know it.

When I was diagnosed in 2010, I was a 53-year-old white female who had lived her whole life in the Pacific Northwest, and when I was 14 I had a very bad case of mononucleosis. On the plus side, I had never smoked and never had a relative that I knew of with MS.

My grandfather, however, did have ALS, a disease that attacks motor neurons (a type of nerve cell) in the brain and spinal cord.

I wasted so many years with doctors not knowing what was wrong with me: Not having a clue what my symptoms meant until years later, when an MRI showed the lesions and then an MS diagnosis was given.

If I had known that I fell into the high risk category for MS, my doctors likely would have made a quicker diagnosis. It would have started me earlier on a treatment and healthier lifestyle plan.

My hope for this article is that anyone out there having symptoms of a disease check their risk factors. This knowledge may help give doctors the extra information they need for a quicker diagnosis.

Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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Debi is a retired Admissions and Marketing Director and currently resides in Oregon. She is married and the Mother of three grown children and has three Grandchildren. She was diagnosed with PPMS in 2010. She hopes to help and inspire others that are also dealing with MS.
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