There is no known cause for multiple sclerosis (MS), but new research suggests that genetics could increase the risk of developing the disease.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that can cause a range of problems with common body functions, such as blurred vision, balance issues, slurred speech, and problems with muscle control and coordination. But just as unnerving is the unpredictable “waiting game” for many people who fear they might inherit the disease.

Diagnosing MS can be complicated because the symptoms are vague or mimic other conditions. Likewise, the cause of the disease is unknown, but according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, several factors are suspected:

  • Environmental factors such as smoking or lack of exposure to Vitamin D; in addition, MS “clusters,” in which high numbers of cases happen in a specific time period or location, have been the cause of speculation and investigation
  • Infectious viruses, bacteria and other microbes
  • Abnormal immune factors that attack the central nervous system
  • A genetic predisposition to MS based on finding the disease in more than one person in a family

What the research says

Is MS hereditary? Historically, doctors believed that a combination of many genetic variations increased the susceptibility for a person to develop the disease. But there is evidence that the risk of developing the disease is higher if you have a first-degree relative with MS, such as a brother, sister or parent.

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Even more convincing is another new study that has found multiple sclerosis can result from a single genetic mutation that acts as an “on-off” switch for the disease. Because the finding uncovers the biological pathway for the progressive form of the disease, the discovery may lead to ways doctors can inhibit the gene to slow down or eliminate the development of MS.

Unlike diagnoses decades ago, living with MS today is not a death sentence.

The good news is that doctors can work closely with patients to help them choose the right treatment to maximize comfort and benefit. At specialty centers like the USC Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center at Keck Medicine of USC, management strategies include training and learning sessions, adapting medicines as needed and counseling patients through disease management.

By Heidi Tyline King

Doctors at Keck Medicine of USC specializing in neurological issues can answer your questions about MS. If you are local to Southern California, schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visiting https://www.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/.