Risk factors for multiple sclerosis

Learn what factors put you at higher risk of multiple sclerosis.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

The cause of multiple sclerosis (MS) isn't known, but a variety of factors influence development of this condition, including:

  • Gender. Women are more likely than are men to develop MS.
  • Age. MS most often appears in people ages 20 to 40, but can occur at any age.
  • Ethnicity. White people, especially those with ancestors from northern Europe, are at the greatest risk of MS. Those of Asian, African or Native American ethnicity have the lowest risk.
  • Family history. Your risk of developing MS is several times higher if you have a parent or sibling with MS.
  • Geographic location. MS occurs more often in people living in the northern United States and southern Canada, Europe, and southeastern Australia and New Zealand. Among those who live in multiple places during life, the risk of developing MS depends upon the childhood home.
  • Infections. Viruses such as Epstein-Barr and others appear to be associated with MS.
  • Other conditions. The risk of MS appears to be slightly high among those who have inflammatory bowel disease, thyroid disease or type 1 diabetes.
May. 21, 2014 See more In-depth