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MS research update - MS in family members - 23 October 2012

When someone is diagnosed with MS, it is natural to ask whether other family members are at increased risk of also being diagnosed with MS. This question cannot be answered simply with a yes or no, it takes some explanation.

MS is not considered hereditary as it is not passed from parent to child or to future generations in a simple predictable way like some conditions. However, there is some increased risk for family members especially more closely related ones.

Genes are thought to play a part in MS but environmental factors also play a role. Consequently, it is the unique combination of the genes that someone inherited and their lifetime environmental experience that adds up to having MS or not.

Many previous studies have examined what the risks might be for family members of someone with MS. This study combined the results of 18 previous studies around the world to try and get the best possible estimate.

They found that the overall risk of MS across the world was 0.16% which is about one in 625. However, it does vary according to where someone lives and their ethnicity.

The risk of both identical twins having MS was about one in six (18%) even though they have exactly the same genes. Non-identical twins had a risk of one in 22 (4.6%) and other brothers and sisters had a risk of one in 37 (2.7%).

Parents of people with MS had a risk of one in 67 (1.5%) and children of people with MS had a risk of one in 48 (2.1%). All these figures are the risk over the entire lifetime of a person.

Relatives that were less closely related had a lower risk: aunts and uncles were one in 125 (0.8%); nieces and nephews were one in 100 (1%) and cousins were one in 142 (0.7%).

The team also calculated how much of the risk was due to genetic factors. They found that genes contributed just over half (54%) of the risk factors. The other half would be due to environmental factors and probably also other unknown factors. The data suggested that one genetic locus had a moderate effect on risk and many others had smaller effects. Research published earlier this year identified over 50 genes associated with MS and more will probably be identified in the future.

This information on risks is important for people with MS who may be concerned about the risk to other family members especially if they are considering whether to have children themselves.

O'Gorman C, Lin R, Stankovich J, et al.
Modelling genetic susceptibility to multiple sclerosis with family data.
Neuroepidemiology. 2012 Oct 11;40(1):1-12. [Epub ahead of print]


This study looks at the risks of MS across the world. It concludes that the risk for the general population is about one in 625 which is similar to the UK as a whole. However, the risk varies across the UK with MS being more prevalent in the north of Scotland. Recent research showed that the risk in Orkney was one in 250. The risk in the south of England would be substantially lower than one in 625.

It can be worth putting the risk of MS in context with other conditions. For example,

  • 1 in 3 people will develop some form of cancer
  • 1 in 9 women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives
  • 1 in 9 men will develop prostate cancer
  • 1 in 20 people over the age of 65 have dementia
  • 1 in 22 people have chronic heart disease
  • 1 in 33 people have diabetes
  • 1 in 500 people have Parkinson's Disease
  • 1 in 520 people in England and Wales have a stroke each year

More about MS in the family

You can read more about the risks, causes and prevalence of MS in the A-Z of MS.

Information for anyone with MS who is thinking of starting a family can be found here. There is also a blog written by a woman with MS, following her through her pregnancy and beyond.

Research by topic areas...

Symptoms and symptom management

Hamdan AL, Farhat S, Saadeh R, et al.
Voice-related quality of life in patients with multiple sclerosis.
Autoimmune Dis. 2012;2012:143813. doi: 10.1155/2012/143813.

Celik DB, Poyraz EC, Bingöl A, et al.
Sexual dysfunction ın multiple sclerosis: gender differences.
J Neurol Sci. 2012 Oct 15. pii: S0022-510X(12)00468-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2012.08.019. [Epub ahead of print]

Schürks M, Bussfeld P.
Multiple sclerosis and restless legs syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
Eur J Neurol. 2012 Oct 18. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-1331.2012.03873.x. [Epub ahead of print]

Disease modifying treatments

Sá MJ.
Disease-modifying drugs for multiple sclerosis must be globally available according to therapeutic guidelines suitable to different regions of the world.
Arq Neuropsiquiatr. 2012 Oct;70(10):761-2.

Portaccio E, Stromillo ML, Goretti B, et al.
Natalizumab may reduce cognitive changes and brain atrophy rate in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis: a prospective, non-randomized pilot study.
Eur J Neurol. 2012 Oct 11. doi:10.1111/j.1468-1331.2012.03882.x. [Epub ahead of print]

Other treatments

Mäurer M, Ortler S, Baier M, et al.
Randomised multicentre trial on safety and efficacy of rivastigmine in cognitively impaired multiple sclerosis patients.
Mult Scler. 2012 Oct 15. [Epub ahead of print]

Wright S, Duncombe P, Altman DG.
Assessment of blinding to treatment allocation in studies of a cannabis-based medicine (Sativex®) in people with multiple sclerosis: a new approach.
Trials. 2012 Oct 9;13(1):189. [Epub ahead of print]


Ruet A, Deloire M, Hamel D, et al.
Cognitive impairment, health-related quality of life and vocational status at early stages of multiple sclerosis: a 7-year longitudinal study.
J Neurol. 2012 Oct 19. [Epub ahead of print]


Toomey E, Coote SB.
Physical rehabilitation interventions in nonambulatory people with multiple sclerosis: a systematic review.
Int J Rehabil Res. 2012 Oct 10. [Epub ahead of print]

Co-existing conditions

Applebee A.
The clinical overlap of multiple sclerosis and headache.
Headache.2012 Oct;52 Suppl 2:111-6.

Assessment tools

Hernández MA, Mora S; en representación de los investigadores del grupo de trabajo del Estudio SLIMS.
Use of the PRIMUS scale to assess quality of life in a Spanish population of multiple sclerosis patients.
Neurologia. 2012 Oct 12. pii: S0213-4853(12)00198-3. doi: 10.1016/j.nrl.2012.06.003. [Epub ahead of print]

Suchy Y, Chelune G, Franchow EI, et al.
Confronting patients about insufficient effort: the impact on subsequent symptom validity and memory performance.
Clin Neuropsychol. 2012 Oct 12. [Epub ahead of print]

Quality of life

Yildiz M.
The impact of slower walking speed on activities of daily living in patients with multiple sclerosis.
Int J Clin Pract. 2012 Nov;66(11):1088-94.

Psychological aspects

Ghaffar O, Fiati M, Feinstein A.
Occupational attainment as a marker of cognitive reserve in multiple sclerosis.
PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e47206. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0047206.

Rodgers JD, Tjaden K, Feenaughty L, et al.
Influence of cognitive function on speech and articulation rate in multiple sclerosis.
J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2012 Oct 12:1-8. [Epub ahead of print]

Ostacoli L, Carletto S, Borghi M, et al.
Prevalence and significant determinants of post-traumatic stress disorder in a large sample of patients with multiple sclerosis.
J Clin Psychol Med Settings. 2012 Oct 2. [Epub ahead of print]

Garfield AC, Lincoln NB.
Factors affecting anxiety in multiple sclerosis.
Disabil Rehabil. 2012 Dec;34(24):2047-52.

Physical activity

Plow MA, Finlayson M, Motl RW, et al.
Randomized controlled trial of a teleconference fatigue management plus physical activity intervention in adults with multiple sclerosis: rationale and research protocol.
BMC Neurol. 2012 Oct 16;12(1):122. [Epub ahead of print]

Pilutti LA, Dlugonski D, Pula JH, et al.
Weight status in persons with multiple sclerosis: implications for mobility outcomes.
J Obes. 2012;2012:868256.


Lu L, Pearce H, Roome C, et al.
Cost effectiveness of oromucosal cannabis-based medicine (Sativex®) for spasticity in multiple sclerosis.
Pharmacoeconomics. 2012 Oct 16. doi: 10.2165/11598470-000000000-00000.[Epub ahead of print]


Damasceno A, Von Glehn F, Brandão CO, et al.
Prognostic indicators for long-term disability in multiple sclerosis patients.
J Neurol Sci.2012 Oct 13. pii: S0022-510X(12)00523-0. doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2012.09.020. [Epub ahead of print]

Orbach R, Zhao Z, Wang YC, et al.
Comparison of disease activity in SPMS and PPMS in the context of multicenter clinical trials.
PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e45409.


Rojas JI, Patrucco L, Besada C, et al.
Brain atrophy at onset and physical disability in multiple sclerosis.
Arq Neuropsiquiatr. 2012 Oct;70(10):765-8.

Pregnancy and childbirth

Kosmala-Anderson J, Wallace LM.
A qualitative study of the childbearing experience of women living with multiple sclerosis.
Disabil Rehabil. 2012 Oct 17. [Epub ahead of print]

Stem cells

Bonab MM, Sahraian MA, Aghsaie A, et al.
Autologous mesenchymal stem cell therapy in progressive multiple sclerosis: an open label study.
Curr Stem Cell Res Ther.2012 Oct 11. [Epub ahead of print]


Haase R, Schultheiss T, Kempcke R, et al.
Use and acceptance of electronic communication by patients with multiple sclerosis: a multicenter questionnaire study.
J Med Internet Res. 2012 Oct 15;14(5):e135. doi:10.2196/jmir.2133.

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