Who Gets MS?
Anyone can get MS. However, there are some patterns:
- Women are more than twice as likely as men to develop MS.
- MS is more often diagnosed between 15 and 40 years of age. Children and older adults can also develop MS, although this is less common.
- Studies show that there are a number of genes that predispose to the development of MS, but there is no evidence that MS is directly inherited. The vast majority of people with MS do not have a first-degree relative (mother, father, sibling, etc.) with the illness.
- Researchers also believe that one or more environmental triggers (e.g. common viruses) are important in the development of MS.
- MS is not contagious.
- Canada has one of the highest prevalence rates of MS in the world. An estimated 55,000–75,000 Canadians have MS.
- Approximately 1,000 new cases of MS are diagnosed in Canada each year.
Having children? Will they get MS too?
It is likely that a number of factors must exist before MS develops. We know that certain genetic populations (northern European backgrounds) have a greater susceptibility to MS, and there are many other factors as well.
Several different genes play a role in creating the risk of getting the disease. That increased risk is only very rarely transmitted on to children because it is unlikely that all the ‘risky’ genes would be passed down to the same child.
That isn’t to say that there is zero risk: there is a higher rate of MS in family members. The general population has approximately a 0.25% risk of developing MS, while an immediate family member of someone with MS (e.g., a child or sibling) has a 3-5% chance of developing MS. While statistically significant, this is still a relatively low risk. An identical twin of someone with MS has a one in three chance of developing MS. The fact is that identical twins – who share identical genes – don’t always get MS, and that the vast majority of people with MS don’t have another family member with the disease. This demonstrates that while genes may play an important role, other environmental factors must be present as well.