One of the big questions that anyone who has been diagnosed with, or who knows someone who has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis is what caused the disease? Children of MS patients as well as the parents themselves are immediately and necessarily concerned with the question of whether or not multiple sclerosis is a genetic disease, that is, can it be passed down through family members. We will take a look at this question in this article, though current research can offer no concrete answers what is known may prove to be enlightening.
Multiple sclerosis does not appear to be handed down from parent to child
Many multiple sclerosis diagnoses take place in the early 20s, the age at which many people begin thinking about having children, the question of the disease being passed down is a common one. Lets take a look at some numbers that may help to alleviate concerns in this area.
The odds of someone in North America developing multiple sclerosis are about 1 in 1,000, or .1 percent. This risk increases by ethnic group, sex, and relations. For example, the daughter of a woman diagnosed with MS does have higher odds for developing the disorder, but the odds remain fairly low, between 2 and 4 percent (this is much lower than the statistics for heart disease and most types of cancer).
Young women tend to be diagnosed with MS at a much higher rate than young men. This indicates that there is some genetic base for multiple sclerosis, but all autoimmune diseases tend to occur more among women than among men.
Strangely, when it comes to the children of people with multiple sclerosis, offspring of fathers with the disease tend to have a much lower percentage of developing the disease than do children of a mother diagnosed with MS. Keep in mind that the rate even for mothers with MS is less than 5%. And, of course, daughters are more at risk of developing MS than sons.
What about the actual gene?
Many diseases can be traced to a gene within the makeup of a person, and there have been studies that have found one or two chromosomes that may make a person more susceptible to MS than others. Still, there has been no specific MS gene discovered, so this remains an area of study.
Understanding the relationship between the genetic and the environmental
While some people may have a genetically determined higher risk of developing multiple sclerosis, this does not make it inevitable. Rather, most of those studying agree that a combination of genetic and environmental factors may serve to trigger the disease. Latitude, living conditions, exposure to infections, and immigration have all been suggested as possible triggers to the development of MS. Surprisingly, the factors are almost all contrary to what we see in the development of other diseases; namely, people from northern latitudes of higher socioeconomic status are more likely to develop the disease than others. Also, people immigrating from an area where MS occurrence is very low will not change their risk factor if they move to a northern latitude after the age of 15, but will if they move prior to turning 15.