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Causes of MS

The specific cause of MS is currently unknown, however there is a general consensus amongst experts that it is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Genetic factors

Although genetics can play a part in the development of the condition, MS is not directly inherited. For example, although it is possible for MS to occur in more than one family member, it is extremely unlikely, and there is only a two percent chance that a child will develop MS as a result of the parent developing the condition.

There is no single gene that causes MS, and it is likely that a certain combination of genes make someone more susceptible to the condition, however genetics alone cannot fully explain the variation in the development of MS across the world.

Environmental factors

MS is known to be much more common in certain geographical areas, in particular, it is more common in areas further away from the equator. MS is relatively common in areas such as the UK and North America, however extremely rare in countries close to the equator such as Ecuador.

Viral infection

Although it is unclear why people living further from the equator are more likely to develop MS, it is thought possible that environmental factors in some areas such as certain bacteria or viruses may have an impact. There is no specific virus identified as being the cause of MS, however there is mounting evidence that the Epstein Barr virus could be a possible trigger.

Vitamin D

Another possible reason that those further away from the equator are more likely to get MS is in relation to sunlight. Sunlight provides us with vitamin D, and some studies have found evidence that those with less exposure to sunlight, who therefore have lower levels of vitamin D, are more likely to develop the condition.


Smoking is another factor that appears to increase the risk of developing MS. There are a number of studies that find the incidence of MS more common amongst smokers, however the reason for this is not yet clear. One possible theory is that the chemicals in cigarette smoke can affect the immune system.