ZocdocAnswersShould I be worried about getting or having multiple sclerosis?

Question

Should I be worried about getting or having multiple sclerosis?

This kind of unusual, but my father, his sister and brother all have multiple sclerosis. Should I be worried that I have it? Should I go get tested? I am 38 year old man who is in descent health, however I have been having problems with my feet, and they hurt all the time. My dad had the same symptoms and lost sight in one of his eyes, but has no other visible symptoms. Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

Answer

Potentially heritable medical issues can be a source of a lot of anxiety. The best thing to do if you are worried about inheriting a particular disease is to see your primary care physician. He or she can talk with you in more detail about your history and refer you to a neurological specialist if needed. In the particular case of multiple sclerosis, there is thought to be a genetic association - i.e. people with a family history are more likely to develop MS themselves. However, MS is also believed to be a polygenic disorder--this means that while there may be a gene that is inherited in families where more than one person has the disease, it takes more than a single gene (or two) to cause the disease. Just because your father has the disease, this does not mean that you are predetermined to develop it. Even if we don't know exactly what they are yet, scientists do believe that there are environmental factors that are also involved in developing MS. Because the inheritance of MS is more complex than other medical conditions, there is not a specific 'test' for it the way that there is for other inheritable diseases (such as certain forms of breast cancer, for example). The only way to evaluate whether you have MS is to see a neurologist who could evaluate you for the disease through imaging and possibly a lumbar puncture, the same way he or she would do so if a new patient came to clinic. To determine whether your current foot complaints warrant a neurology evaluation, it is probably best to see your primary care physician who can go over your entire history and current physical exam to help determine the best next step.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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