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Diseases

Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

Multiple sclerosis

*

* Not a rare disease

Other Names for this Disease
  • MS
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.

Cause

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What causes multiple sclerosis?

Studies suggest that there are many paths to developing multiple sclerosis (MS). The factors that contribute to its onset are multiple and varied. The signs and symptoms of MS occur as a result of inflammation, loss of the protective nerve covering (myelin), and the break down of nerve cells.[1] The most widely accepted theory is that MS begins as an autoimmune disorder, where white blood cells (lymphocytes) attack healthy tissues. Later, signs and symptoms occur as a result of abnormal activity of specialized cells in the brain and spinal cord (microglial cells) and progressive injury and loss of brain and spinal cord cells.[1]

Additional theories regarding the cause of MS include chronic viral infections and genetic disease. Although many viruses, and particularly the Epstein-Barr virus, have been associated with MS, there is no specific evidence linking viruses directly to the development of MS. Still, Epstein-Barr virus infection is considered a risk factor for the disease.[2] Certain gene changes, including ones in HLA-DRB1 are associated with an increased risk for developing multiple sclerosis. However, it is unclear exactly what role these gene changes play in the development of MS.[1] Having a first degree relative with MS does increase a persons risk for the condition (to around 2%). Click here to learn more about gene changes and MS.

Vitamin D is another area of interest. Those who are exposed to more sunlight tend to have higher levels of naturally-produced vitamin D, which is thought to support the immune function and may help protect against immune-mediated diseases like MS.[2]

Further information on the cause of MS is available at the following link to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Web site:
http://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS/What-Causes-MS
Last updated: 6/24/2013

References
  1. Olek MJ, Mowry E. Pathogenesis and epidemiology of multiple sclerosis. In: Gonzalez-Scarano F ed.,. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate; Last updated June 2, 2015; Accessed 9/3/2015.
  2. What Causes MS?. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS/What-Causes-MS. Accessed 9/3/2015.


Other Names for this Disease
  • MS
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.