Anyone can get MS. However, the disease occurs anywhere from two to four times more frequently in women than in men. MS usually strikes people in the age range of 20 to 40 years old but it can occur at any age. Recently, there have been more cases diagnosed in people of much younger ages. MS is also more prevalent in Caucasians than in any other race (this may be attributed to specific populations living in specific geographical regions).
Geography seems to also play an important part in who gets MS as the number of cases becomes greater the further north one lives from the equator. But to make matters more interesting, there are some ethnic groups that have no incidence of MS regardless of how far north of the equator they live.
Pictured is a map that shows the prevalence of MS throughout the world. Notice North America.
There are findings that show a person's risk for getting MS can change if they relocate from an area of high risk to an area of low risk or vice-versa. The younger a person is when they relocate, the more likely they are to be affected by the risk level in their new area. This means that a child who moves from a high risk area to a low risk area is a lot less likely to develop MS then if they had not relocated. The older one is when they relocate, the less likely they are to be affected by the region's risk level.
So, why do people get MS? Is it genetic? Is it environmental? Is it a combination? Or does one dictate the other? These are all important questions that need to be answered as we continue to look hopefully towards a cure.
The fact that where someone lives seems to play a part in whether you get the disease or not, definitely points to the fact that there must be environmental factors involved in getting the disease.
But are genetics involved? For years, the medical community stated that the disease was not genetic and today there is still no evidence that MS can be directly passed down through a family. So why do we often see MS "running" in some family lines? Why are some children of a parent with MS getting MS or why do we see two or three siblings all having MS?
Even though MS may not be directly passed down, the genes that you inherit may put you at greater risk for developing MS (meaning your particular gene pool may make you more susceptible). There are studies looking into a possible "MS gene marker" that may be present in some families that when combined with the right environmental factors could result in heightening your risk for getting MS.
One reason we may see situations where MS seems to be prevalent in a particular family may be the fact that they are all exposed to many of the same environmental factors, whether they be in the home, a business or community setting. Is there a chemical in the home that may be a trigger? Does the community have a business that is causing the air or water supply to be tainted with a trigger? Are there agricultural practices that are releasing triggers into the air, water or food supply? I am not saying that these things are triggers. The point is that there could possibly be exposure to a trigger of some sort in the localized environment. Conversely, there may be an essential element, that may aid in lessening the risk of getting MS, that may be lacking in the immediate environment. Look at the map again, and you will see that MS appears to be more prevalent in highly industrialized areas. Interesting?
There are so many questions that we still have no answers for yet.
Genetics seems to be a part of the puzzle along with the environment; but which plays the dominant role? Is there a dominant role? Is one a trigger for a predisposed condition? Who knows?
Uncertainty. This is MS........