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Genetics and numerous factors do play a role, but having a relative with MS doesn't necessarily mean you will develop the condition.

Is MS Hereditary?

You can inherit many things from your family members; you may have the same nose as your mom, height from your maternal side, your dad’s laugh, the list goes on. Genetics and hereditary characteristics give us a great many personality attributes as well as biological traits.

Often, the good comes with the bad and not all inheritable traits are positive ones. You may have the same blood type as your dad, and unfortunately, that could leave you susceptible to other things, including disease. It’s often wondered if a disease, like multiple sclerosis (MS), can be passed down through the gene pool.

What Is Multiple Sclerosis?

MS is an autoimmune disease which affects your central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). Autoimmune diseases confuse within the cells; the body’s own tissues are mistaken for viruses or bacteria, and the body attacks itself.

How Does MS Affect the Brain?

A quick recap of how the brain is wired for communication should remind you of how MS affects the brain:

Neurons, or nerve cells, in the brain are the building blocks of the central nervous system; they receive, process and transmit information. The neuron is comprised of a cell body, dendrites, and an axon. Dendrites pick up the messages from receptors of other cells and pass it to the cell body then the axon.

The axon is the long extension of the cell which the carries messages to other neurons, and this communication prompts us to think or take action. Axons are coated with a myelin sheath, which is constructed of fats and proteins to create a protective barrier which insulates and helps speed up nerve transmission through nerve fibers.

Myelin and MS

MS attacks tissues in the body – namely the myelin in the brain. The attack causes inflammation of the brain and damages the myelin in patches. Minor damage will result in slight interruptions for nerve impulses – the communication between brain cells becomes kind of like a weak Wi-Fi signal you’d get in a coffee shop.

More severe destruction of the myelin can lead to the nerve fibers themselves getting damaged. MS can quite literally interrupt your brain messages to the point where communication is disrupted between neurons; in this instance, the body doesn’t receive the impulses telling it what to do – even the most basic of human functions.

MS can cause issues speaking, walking, seeing, and many other functions of the body. With MS, you might not only have a weak Wi-Fi signal but sometimes the message gets lost completely.

What Causes MS?

If that’s the basic outline of how MS operates, who gets it? Is it some unlucky Russian Roulette? A source is not definitive, and the underlying cause of MS remains in the dark; however, certain factors contribute to the likelihood of developing contracting MS.

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Current research suggests that lifestyle, environmental, genetic and biologic elements contribute to risk factors for this disease. MS can develop at any age, but diagnosis usually occurs between the ages of 15-40. Studies have shown that MS is more likely to happen in women than in men, and has proven to be more common in people of northern European background.

As far as links to genetics, even though MS is not hereditary per se, there are a few factors that may increase the potential for an individual to contract the disease.

For instance, having a direct-relative such as a parent or sibling significantly increases the potential for another sibling or offspring to be afflicted. An inheritance pattern such as this suggests a definite link to genetics.

Researchers speculate that MS could develop due to a genetic predisposition to react to an agent in the environment which triggers an immune-mediated response upon exposure to that particular stimuli.

What Are the Symptoms of MS?

Symptoms of MS are unpredictable, each individual has a different experience with MS, and symptoms can fluctuate on a case-by-case basis as well.

Myelin damage can leave some nerves exposed, which can cause irreversible damage to them as well. Part and parcel of the irregularity in symptoms depends on the location where the myelin and/or nerve damage in the central nervous system occurs. Location and severity of myelin damage may also mean that symptoms might not present right away.

MS is ever-changing; since the disease develops slowly and more damage occurs to the myelin, the more symptoms will start to unfold.

In between periods of remission, symptoms can include cognitive impairment, vision issues, fatigue, lack of coordination, mood changes, issues with balance or dizziness, weakness, bladder problems, and more.

To date, research has not discovered a cure for MS, but research and various studies are ongoing. For a vast majority of people living with the disease, MS is not fatal.

In the true sense of inheriting MS through the gene pool, neurologists maintain that MS is not a hereditary disease. Scientific research is still digging for a cure. You can inherit many things from your parents, but as of right now, science doesn’t suggest that MS is one of them.