Physical and social environment and the risk of multiple sclerosis

Mult Scler Relat Disord. 2014 Sep;3(5):600-6. doi: 10.1016/j.msard.2014.07.002. Epub 2014 Jul 21.


Background: The incidence of multiple sclerosis (MS) in Denmark has doubled in women since 1970, whereas it has been almost unchanged in men. The rapid epidemiological changes suggest that environmental factors may modify the risk of MS.

Objectives: To investigate whether occupational, physical, or social environmental influence the risk of MS differently in women than in men.

Methods: The cohort consists of all 1403 patients (939 women, 464 men) identified through Danish Multiple Sclerosis Registry aged 1-55 of years at clinical onset between 2000 and 2004, and up to 25 control persons for each case, matched by sex, year of birth and residential municipality. The same cohort was previously used to investigate the influence of the reproductive factors on the risk of MS.

Results: By linkage to Danish population registers we found a slight albeit statistically significant excess for 6 female MS patients who had been employed in agriculture: OR 3.52; 95% CI 1.38-9.00, p=0.008 (0.046 when corrected for multiple significance) and a trend for exposure to outdoor work in 12 : OR 1.94, 95% CI 1.06-3.55, p=0.03 (0.09 when corrected for multiple significance), but the numbers of cases were small, and the effects were not found in men. Educational level, housing conditions in youth, or the presence of children unrelated by blood in the household did not influence the risk of MS.

Conclusions: Our study did not reveal any additional factors beyond the previously published childbirths which could explain the extent of the MS incidence increase in women.

Keywords: Education; Gender; Hygiene theory; Multiple sclerosis; Occupation; Risk factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Denmark / epidemiology
  • Educational Status
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hygiene*
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / diagnosis*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prognosis
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sex Distribution
  • Social Environment*
  • Survival Rate
  • Young Adult