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People with MS in the military have higher risk of death

on August 28, 2017

Personnel of UK armed forces who have multiple sclerosis are at significantly higher risk of dying than people in other occupations. This is according to a new study.

militaryThe study titled “Mortality from multiple sclerosis in British military personnel” was published in the journal Occupational Medicine

Researchers from the University of Southampton, England, had already studied mortality rates by occupation by checking records of residents of England and Wales. They saw the death rate among MS patients in the armed forces was considerably higher than in other professions.

Now, we with MS are fully aware that, while the cause of the disease is unknown, it has genetic, environmental, and virus factors. But researchers wanted to find out why such a high proportion of people with MS in the military die, and the causes.

Key findings

I am not going to go into the full details, as you can read they whole study – see link above. Instead, let me guide you through some of its findings:

  • MS-related mortality rate among military people was significantly higher than in other professions. That rate was also significantly higher than the rate from all motor neuron diseases in the armed forces.
  • Military people did not have a higher MS-related death rate when the team divided those in the study into three social classes. Nor when they compared the armed forces mortality rate to those of similar occupations, such as police and fire services.
  • The consistency of the findings, together with the high statistical significance observed, indicates that the results were not due to simple chance or a problem with the study method.
  • Researchers speculated that the higher military death rate could stem from the proximity in which military personnel live and work, which could facilitate the transmission of infections that have the potential to cause MS.
  • The research team wrote: “Our findings suggest that the persistently high proportion of deaths from MS in British military personnel is unlikely to be explained by chance, bias or confounding. The alternative possibility that there is an underlying occupational hazard is plausible. For example, the close proximity in which military recruits live and work might facilitate the transmission of one or more infections that lead to MS.”
  • The results conflicted with a study that analyzed hospital admissions due to MS in a population of former military personnel. That reported no increased incidence of MS-related admissions in former military people, compared with non-military controls. Since such cohort studies are less prone to bias, the Southampton team called for more research on the topic.

Military MS in summary

Researchers said: “Findings suggest the high proportional mortality from MS in British military personnel is unlikely to occur by chance. Nor as an artefact of the method of investigation. However, the only military cohort study with published results on MS does not support an increased risk. It would be useful to analyze data on MS from other military cohorts, to check for evidence of a hazard.”

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Clinical Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.


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