Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease in which the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged. This damage disrupts the ability of parts of the nervous system to communicate, resulting in a range of signs and symptoms. Multiple sclerosis symptoms may differ greatly from one person to another and are dependent on the area of demyelination. They include double vision, partial or complete loss of vision, fatigue, tingling, and numbness. Other signs are muscle stiffness, thinking problems, and urinary problems. Although the cause of multiple sclerosis is unknown, a combination of genetics and environmental factors appears to be responsible. Below are the factors that may increase your risk of developing multiple sclerosis:
1. Gender: Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. In fact, the disease is not only more common among women, but women are also more likely to get MS at a younger age.
2. Where You live: People who live nearer the earth’s pole are more likely to get MS than those who live closer to the equator. Researchers believe that vitamin D, or lack thereof, is the reason. Our bodies produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, so people far from the equator make less, especially during the long, dark winter months.
3. Ethnicity: Multiple sclerosis is more common among Caucasians, particularly those of northern European descent. Some groups, such as people with African, Asian, Hispanic and Native American ancestry have the lowest risk. MS is almost unheard of among some groups, including Australian aborigines and New Zealand Maoris, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
4. Smoking: Smokers and ex-smokers are more likely to get MS than people who never smoked, and the more cigarettes you’ve had, the greater your chances.
5. Family history: If one of your parents or siblings has had MS, you are at higher risk of developing the disease. The MS risk is 1 in 750 for most people, 1 in 40 for those with close family members with the disease and 1 in 4 for those with an identical twin who has it.
6. You have another autoimmune condition: Autoimmune diseases tend to cluster, so if you have one, you may develop others. That means if you have inflammatory bowel disease or type 1 diabetes, you may have a slightly higher risk of being diagnosed with MS, too.