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Behind the headlines: does being in the army increase your risk of dying from MS?

David Schley

A new study suggests that being in the army may increase your risk of dying from complications to do with MS.

Researchers at Southampton Hospital looked at the death records of men in England and Wales. They found deaths from MS were much higher among people whose last recorded job was in the armed forces.

What causes MS?

Although the study found a clear difference in death rates, it didn’t look at risk factors for developing MS.

We know your circumstances, such as where you live and work, play a role in developing MS. And many people with MS say factors like heat and stress make their symptoms worse.

But we don’t know exactly what causes MS - just that both genetic and environmental factors are involved. These include vitamin D deficiency, smoking, infections and obesity.

Explaining the differences

The researchers point out that their findings could be unrelated to the causes of MS.

The study only looked at someone’s last job. If you develop MS while in the army, you’re less likely to get a new job when you leave. This increases the number of deaths counted as being ‘in the army’ rather than another profession.

We might also expect people in the army to be fitter and healthier, and so they have an unusually low death rate from things like heart disease.

Important question

Preventing MS is one of our top goals and a priority area for our research team. We welcome this study. It shows that studying the experiences of people in the army could potentially help us understand what causes MS. But it doesn’t yet tell us what factors increase or reduce the risk of developing MS.