Multiple sclerosis is a progressive, debilitating disease. How likely are you to be diagnosed?

Age, gender may play a role

Nearly 1 million people in the United States are living with multiple sclerosis, according to the National MS Society — but how likely are you to get it?

Let us explain first exactly what Multiple Sclerosis is.

In a nutshell, the body’s immune system can attack the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. The myelin, which serves as insulation and protection to the nerves and nerve fibers, can be damaged or destroyed. When that happens, a variety of neurological symptoms can vary in type and severity in patients.

Those who have been diagnosed can have an array of symptoms that include fatigue, numbness or tingling, walking difficulties, vision problems, spasticity, bladder problems, cognitive changes, pain and itching, dizziness and vertigo, weakness and emotional changes, to name a few.

What’s more, the disease is progressive, and those symptoms typically get worse over time.

It’s important to know that while there is no known cause of MS, it is not directly inherited or contagious. However, scientists believe environmental and genetic factors may contribute to the risk of developing the disease. They have identified factors that may eventually help determine what causes the disease:

Age: Although MS can be diagnosed in young children and adults, most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50.

Gender: Recent studies show MS is three times more likely in women than men, suggesting that hormones might play a significant role in determining susceptibility to the disease, according to the National MS Society.

Ethnic background: While research has shown that MS can occur in most ethnic groups, it is most common among Caucasians of Northern European ancestry. However, recent findings show African-American women have a higher risk than previous previously thought.

Geography: It’s unclear how this information might weigh into the grand scheme of things, but researchers have found in general, MS is more common in areas farthest from the equator.

According to the MS Society, more people are being diagnosed with MS today than in the past, and while the reasons for this are unclear, experts believe a large contributing factor is the fact that there is great awareness of the disease, better access to medical care and improved diagnostic capabilities.

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