There has been extensive research about MS over the past 50 years. While we still do not know the cause of MS, we know that it is an inflammatory disorder of the central nervous system that occurs in people with a tendency to such a problem. We know that about 350,000 people in the United States have MS, about one in a 1,000 people. We know that it is more common further north and south of the equator, though we are still unsure why this is. Females tend to get MS about three times as often as males, a rate which is similar to other immune diseases. In children this ratio may be even higher, with most of the patients being female. Girls with MS are more likely to have initial sensory symptoms (e.g. numbness and tingling) than boys. In addition, girls tend to recover more from their initial episode of MS than boys. MS is more common in Caucasians, but can occur in other populations. It is not contagious nor is it infectious. There may be a link with reduced vitamin D levels and perhaps with decreased sun exposure. In children with MS there may be an increased link with exposure to Epstein-Barr Virus. Most people with MS are diagnosed after the age of 18. Only about 3-5% of all MS patients have the symptoms of their MS begin in childhood.

We know that there is a genetic component to MS. Having a mother or father with MS increases the risk of having MS to about 3-5% lifetime, and having an identical twin with MS increases the risk to about 30%. However, many people with MS have no close family members with the disease.

There is nothing that an individual with MS either did to cause the disease to happen, or can avoid to stop the disease from following its natural course. We know that emotional stress may increase the symptoms of MS. We also know that attacks of MS are more likely after infections. There does not seem to be any association with physical trauma or surgical procedures and MS, nor do these seem to make MS worse.

Reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional.

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