Multiple sclerosis (MS) if most frequently diagnosed in individuals between the ages of 20 and 50. Specific genes put a person at higher risk of contracting the disease, which affects the central nervous system. However, researchers are still seeking to understand the triggers. Some scientists have found evidence that having pneumonia in adolescence is linked to a greater risk of MS. This evidence has led to other research into infections that may be associated with MS.
Studying the connections has some obstacles to overcome. Infections may be a result of MS instead of the opposite. And, it may be 5 to 10 years or more between the initial phases of MS and the first symptoms, which include tingling, numbness, stiffness, vision problems, difficulty with balance, and fatigue. Scientists pursuing these studies need to take extra precautions to be certain that the infections that occurred prior to the MS became evident.
One study published in the journal Brain examined the health records of close to 2.5 million people born in Sweden between 1970 and 1994. Approximately 4,000 of them received an MS diagnosis after the age of 20. Of those 4,000, 19% had an infection diagnosed between birth and 10 years of age, and 14% of them were between 11 and 19 years of age.
The study found that most infections prior to age 11 were not linked to a later diagnosis of MS. However, infections diagnosed in a hospital, which means the infections were severe, between 11 and 19 were linked consistently with an elevated risk of developing MS.
Not every category of infection resulted in a higher risk of MS. However, infections of the central nervous system raised the risk of MS most notably. The researchers noted that inflammation in the central nervous system may induce the autoimmune process, which occurs when an individual’s immune system attacks their own body, which results in MS.
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