Study Finds Greater Risk of Multiple Sclerosis in Cities

According to a story from Medical Xpress, an Italian study has found that people in urban areas are at a 29 percent greater risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS). This is likely due to increased air pollution in these environments, suggesting that it could be a risk factor for the disease. Multiple sclerosis has an unusual geographic distribution of cases that has yet to be fully explained, but this discovery serves to shed more light on the subject.

About Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disease which is characterized by damage to the myelin sheath, a fatty, insulating, protective covering that surrounds nerve cells and allows them to communicate effectively. Although a precise cause has not been determined, multiple sclerosis is considered an autoimmune disease, in which a certain trigger, such as an infection, may cause the immune system to mistakenly attack healthy tissue. Smoking and certain genetic variants are also considered risk factors for the disease. Symptoms include blurred vision, double vision, blindness in one eye, numbness, abnormal sensations, pain, muscle weakness, muscle spasms, difficulty speaking and swallowing, mood instability, depression, loss of coordination, and fatigue. There are a number of treatments available for the disease, but no cure. Life expectancy for patients is slightly reduced. To learn more about multiple sclerosis, click here.

Study Findings

The research appears to indicate that the concentration of particulate matter in the air (essentially microscopic particles that are present because of pollution), which is greater in cities, could contribute to the development of the illness. The study found that people in rural areas, where there is less particulate matter, were at lower risk. The researchers evaluated 900 patients in the Lombardy region of northwest Italy where the rate of cases had risen by ten times in the last fifty years. The scientists say that while part of this increase is because of improved treatment for multiple sclerosis, leading to patients surviving for longer (and therefore more patients in a given area), increased exposure to environmental risk factors is also another contributor.

The findings appear as the number of multiple sclerosis cases in Europe as a whole is trending upward. At this juncture, there are over 700,000 known cases on the continent.

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