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The young person's guide to MS How do you get MS?

What causes it?

Why does one person have it and not another?
What triggers it?
Can you catch it? Is it infectious?

Nobody knows exactly how MS is caused, but there is lots of research looking into it.

It is thought that your genes play a role in whether you might get MS or not. Your genes are inherited from your parents and they control a whole range of factors, including the colour of your eyes, whether you can roll your tongue or not and how tall you will be. Scientists think that having certain groups of genes may make a person more likely to develop MS. However, it is not just your genes that play a role, these are some of the other factors that scientists have investigated:

Where you live

MS is much more common in countries that are a long way north or south of the equator such as Britain, Canada and New Zealand. Nobody is 100% sure why this is so.


Some experts think that the viruses that cause illnesses such as mumps, measles and chickenpox could be a trigger for MS in some people. However so far, no single virus has been identified as the trigger.

Other factors

Some research has looked at whether stress might be a trigger for MS, but no proof has been found. More women than men have MS so research is also being carried out to see if hormones have a role in MS.

Some facts about MS

  • About 100,000 people in the UK have MS.
  • It is most frequently diagnosed in people in their late 20s or 30s, although it can begin in people who are older than this. It is very rare in children.
  • More women than men are diagnosed with MS.
  • MS is not inherited.
  • MS is not infectious. You can't catch it like you can illnesses such as colds or chickenpox, which are caused by a virus or bacteria.
  • MS is not caused by stress or family disputes.
  • MS was first recognised as a disease in the mid-1800s. The first identifiable case of MS was described by Augustus d'Este (1794- 1848), a grandson of King George III. His MS wasn't diagnosed until after he died, but was recognised from a diary he kept describing his symptoms.


"My main thoughts are feeling sad and upset, but also angry because my mum has done nothing to deserve the illness she has."

Patrick, 14

"I used to think that it was my fault that caused her to be ill, but when I talked to her, she said the attacks just come out of nowhere."

Rachel, 12

"I think that it is not fair and why us, and why mum?"

Aimee, 12

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