Childhood Abuse Associated with Increased Risk of Developing MS

A research study in Norway found that adverse childhood experiences, such as emotional, sexual, or physical abuse, in women were associated with an increased risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS).

Adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse or neglect, lead to extreme types of stress that increase the risk of psychiatric or physical disorders in adulthood such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune diseases. Although there are well-known risk factors associated with MS, such as Vitamin D deficiency or Epstein-Barr Virus, effects of stress on MS development are not well understood and have been difficult to study.

To determine whether exposure to childhood adverse experiences is associated with development of MS, a team of researchers led by Dr. Karine Eid, analyzed data from a nationwide, prospective cohort study, the Norwegian Mother, Father and Child cohort study. Enrolment took place from 1999 to 2008 and data was compiled from self-administered questionnaires on demographic information, socioeconomic status, and self-reported history of adverse experiences, including abuse. The study looked at 77,997 women from the cohort of which 14,477 or 19% of women were exposed to adverse childhood experiences. Data was then cross compared to the Norwegian Multiple Sclerosis Registry and Biobank, as well as the Norwegian Patient Registry to identify 300 women who later developed MS, of which 71 (24%) reported a history of childhood abuse compared with 14,406 of the 77,697, or 19% of women that did not develop MS.

Overall, the study found that women who were exposed to childhood sexual or emotional abuse had an increased risk of developing MS and the risk increased when exposed to two or all three categories of abuse (i.e., sexual, physical, and emotional). While unclear, there may be biological consequences to childhood abuse such as brain dysregulation, leading to increased oxidative stress and inflammation. Psychological distress might be affecting the blood-brain barrier or modifying DNA, increasing the risk of neurodegenerative disorders, such as MS. Further research is needed to understand the underlying mechanisms between abuse and the development of MS.


Article published in Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry - Association of adverse childhood experiences with the development of multiple sclerosis. Link to article – here.