Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). In MS, the immune system attacks and damages or destroys the myelin, a substance that surrounds and insulates the nerves. The myelin destruction causes a distortion or interruption in nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain. This results in a wide variety of symptoms.
Who Can Get Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is estimated to affect 2.3 million people worldwide. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 to 50, though it can also occur in young children and the elderly.
MS in Women
Multiple sclerosis is three times more common in women than in men. In addition, nearly all women afflicted with MS get the condition before menopause. This could mean that hormones play an important role in the disease’s development.
MS in Men
Usually, MS in men is more severe than it is in women. They typically get MS in their 30s and 40s, just as their testosterone levels begin to decline.
Although MS is more common in women than men overall, one form of the disease contradicts this pattern. People with primary progressive (PP) MS are about as likely to be male as female. (The four main types of MS are described later).
Multiple Sclerosis and Smoking
People who smoke are more likely to develop MS, and to develop it more severely and with a faster progression.
MS is more prevalent among Caucasians than other ethnicities. MS is believed to have a genetic component as people with a first-degree relative with the disease have a higher incidence than the general population.
Multiple Sclerosis Causes
The exact cause of multiple sclerosis is unknown, but it is believed to be some combination of immunologic, environmental, infectious, or genetic factors. Researchers are examining the possible role of viruses in the cause of MS, but this is still unproven.
Finding the MS Cause: Many Approaches
A range of scientific disciplines are being employed to find the cause of MS. Immunologists, epidemiologists and geneticists are all working to narrow in on the cause of multiple sclerosis.
One unusual finding that has emerged is that MS occurs more frequently the farther people live from the equator. This suggests a possible connection between the condition and vitamin D deficiency.