Multiple sclerosis, or MS is a rare disease of the central nervous system. It's symptoms, including dizziness, blurred vision, slurred speech, sexual dysfunction, incontinence, shakiness, loss of coordination, and weakness, can be debilitating when flare-ups occur. The most common risks for developing MS are environmental: infection with the Epstein Barr virus, vitamin D deficiency, and cigarette smoking.  But according to a new study published in the journal Neurology, health experts might also have to add childhood obesity to that list.  

In the study, conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston researchers studied women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study and Nurses' Health Study II over a 40 year period. Participants answered questions throughout the study about weight, height, body size, smoking and exercise habits, and disease status.

Among the more than 200,000 participants in the two groups, there were 593 cases of MS.  The study found no association between MS risk and having a large body size at ages 5 and 10 or as an adult. However, obesity at age 18 was associated with a greater than twofold increased risk of MS and a large body size at age 20 was associated with a 96% increased risk of MS, the study team found.

Almost half a million Americans currently have MS, with about 10,000 new cases diagnosed every year.  Still, MS is considered a rare disease. Women generally have a 1 in 200 risk of developing MS during their lifetime compared to the 1 in 8 lifetime risk of breast cancer. While it is not usually fatal, it's a chronic unpredictable disease with no known cure. 

via Reuters