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Are You At Risk for MS? Seven Factors You Need to Know

By Daryl H. Bryant (734 words)
Posted in Multiple Sclerosis on March 16, 2020

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Are You At Risk for MS? Seven Factors You Need to Know

Nearly one million people in the U.S. are living with Multiple Sclerosis today. There could be more, but many people may not yet know that their symptoms are actually MS. Research shows that people can start showing signs of MS years before they are formally diagnosed. Actress Selma Blair said receiving her diagnosis was a relief; she’d been battling symptoms for more than a decade before doctors finally identified her condition. 

Multiple Sclerosis can be tricky to diagnose because it affects each person differently.  Symptoms can mimic other autoimmune conditions such as lupus, fibromyalgia, or chronic fatigue syndrome. Some people live with minimal symptoms, while others battle severe flares and chronic challenges that impact daily living. 

If you’re concerned that you may be at risk for MS, it’s important to arm yourself with knowledge about risk factors and symptoms. Here are seven factors that can increase your risk of MS. 


While MS can affect anyone at any age, it is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50. 


Women are three times more likely to be diagnosed with MS than men. However, men who are diagnosed tend to have more intense symptoms. A 2017 study found that nearly 75% of MS diagnoses were women. 


Surprisingly, where you live can affect whether or not you are diagnosed with certain autoimmune conditions. Researchers found that the further away someone lives from the equator, the higher their risk for MS. The National MS Society found that more people in the Northeastern U.S. are diagnosed with MS than other areas of the country. 

Nutritional Deficiencies

Some doctors theorize that the location risk factor is connected to Vitamin D levels. Several studies have found that people with a greater risk of MS have low Vitamin D and / or low exposure to natural sunlight, which is used to regulate and produce Vitamin D in the body. This is why proper nutrition and supplementation is vital for anyone at risk for MS. 

Genetic Predisposition 

Genetics play a role in your likelihood of contracting MS as well. If a family member has MS, your risk increases significantly. 

Genetic risk factors aren’t just limited to your immediate family. Lineage can also play a role in your health. Caucasians with Northern European ancestry are more likely to be diagnosed, even if they live in a less temperate climate or have no other family members with MS. 

Viruses & Other Autoimmune Conditions

Doctors have found links between people with certain autoimmune conditions and MS. While this information is still being researched, what we do know is that having Type 1 Diabetes, thyroid conditions, or irritable bowel disease can increase your risk of MS. 

Similarly, contracting certain viral infections is linked to a higher risk of developing MS. Doctors haven’t quite figured out why this happens or which comes first - the virus or MS. However, what they do know is that people who have MS often have proteins in their spinal fluid from certain herpes viruses. There may also be a connection between Epstein-Barr virus and MS. 


While you can’t control many of the factors affecting MS, this is one factor that is completely in your control. Researchers have found that smokers are more likely than non-smokers to be diagnosed with MS, and their symptoms tend to be more intense. However, people who stop smoking can slow the progression of MS after diagnoses. Yet another reason to put out that cigarette and get healthier! 

The bottom line: there is no reason to fear MS or a diagnosis. Arm yourself with knowledge and understand your risk factors. Having a higher risk of MS doesn’t mean you’ll ever be diagnosed. Similarly, you can have virtually no risk factors and still be surprised by a diagnosis. 

No matter where you fall on the risk spectrum, the most important step you can take is to be proactive about your health. Take simple steps to reduce your risk factors: stop smoking, get sunlight daily, check your Vitamin D levels, take a good supplement, eat a healthy and low-inflammation diet, and get adequate exercise

If you’re concerned about your risk of developing MS, or if you feel you have common MS symptoms, talk to your health care professional. With the right plan in place, you can live a healthy and full life regardless of your risk or diagnosis! 

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