Family history and multiple sclerosis

Learn how a family history of multiple sclerosis affects your risk of inheriting the condition.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Researchers have spent decades trying to determine what causes multiple sclerosis (MS). Although the exact cause of multiple sclerosis is uncertain, research suggests that a family history of the disease is associated with a higher risk of developing MS.

If you have a first-degree relative with MS, such as a parent or sibling, you have an approximately 1 in 40 chance of developing the disease — the risk in the general population is about 1 in 750.

Genetic factors

Studies show a higher prevalence of certain genes and genetic variations in some populations with higher rates of MS, indicating that some people inherit genes that make them susceptible to developing the disease.

Though the cause of MS in still unknown, variations in many genes are thought to contribute to a higher risk of the disease. Variations in the HLA-DRB1 and IL7R genes are two examples of such genes. Because both genes are related to the immune system, researchers believe they may influence the autoimmune response that damages the myelin sheath and nerve cells that trigger the signs and symptoms of MS.

Apr. 26, 2014 See more In-depth