• Higher socioeconomic standing has sometimes been thought to increase the risk of being diagnosed with MS, although findings have been mixed in this area
      • The prevalence of MS has been rapidly increasing in Iran and there is considerable interest in determining specific risk factors for this population of people with MS
      • A new study has found no relationship between socioeconomic status and education levels in Iran and the risk of developing MS

There has always been a great deal of interest in the risk factors that might increase a person’s chance of developing MS, as this may help us to understand how to prevent MS. It is now known that both an individual’s genetic makeup and exposure to environmental factors play a role. Environmental factors linked to MS include smoking, low exposure to ultraviolet light or low vitamin D, obesity (especially in adolescence) and infection with the Epstein Barr Virus (EBV). We also know that there is a gender imbalance in MS, with far more women than men being affected.

One risk factor that is not well understood is whether socioeconomic status is related to the risk of developing MS. Socioeconomic status is a measure of a person’s economic and social position in relation to others based on income, education and occupation. Previous research studies, mainly conducted in the developed world, suggested that a higher socioeconomic position increased the risk of developing MS, but more recent studies suggest that a higher socioeconomic position actually lowers a person’s risk of developing MS.

A new study published in the journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders has investigated whether socioeconomic position affects the risk of developing MS in the developing country of Iran. In Iran, as is the case worldwide, the prevalence of MS is increasing. This study investigated 547 people with MS and compared them to 1057 people without MS from across Tehran, the capital of Iran. The researchers conducted telephone interviews about a number of socioeconomic factors and collected information about other risk factors known to influence the risk of MS that could skew the results, such as physical activity, sunlight and smoking.

No connection

The team identified that none of the socioeconomic factors examined in this study were significantly related to the risk of developing MS in Iran. This included the education level of the participants with MS, or the education level of their parents, and the assets belonging to the household during the participants’ adolescence. Whilst the researchers did see some trends in the data, they found that, once all the statistical factors and other risk factors had been taken into account, there was no link between socioeconomic factors and MS risk.

This careful analysis highlights the importance of well-designed studies that include information about other risk factors when conducting this type of research to ensure that any findings are valid. It also highlights the importance of examining the risk factors for MS in different countries, as individual populations of people with MS may have their own profiles of risk factors.

Based on these findings, it is unlikely that changes to socioeconomic status is driving the rise of MS in Iran. The rapid increase in MS in Iran indicates that it is unlikely to be due to changing genetics in the country, which points instead to environmental and other factors. Further research is needed to determine the risk factors for MS among people living in developing countries.

With thanks to MS Research Australia – the lead provider of research summaries on our website.

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