Seasonal variation in multiple sclerosis relapse
Harding K, Tilling K, MacIver C, et al
J Neurol 2017; 264:1059-1067
Relapses are a characteristic clinical feature of multiple sclerosis (MS), but an appreciation of factors that cause them remains elusive. In this study, we have examined seasonal variation of relapse in a large population-based MS cohort and correlated observed patterns with age, sex, disease course, and climatic factors.
Relapse data were recorded prospectively in 2076 patients between 2005 and 2014. 3902 events were recorded in 1158 patients (range 0–24). There was significant seasonal variation in relapse rates (p < 0.0001) and this was associated with monthly hours of sunshine (odds ratio OR 1.08, p = 0.02). Relapse rates were highest in patients under the age of 30 (OR 1.42, p = 0.0005) and decreased with age. There was no evidence of different relapse rates for males compared to females (OR 0.90, p = 0.19).
Significant seasonal differences in relapse rates highlight the importance of environmental factors in disease expression and should be taken into account when planning clinical trials in which relapse frequency is an outcome. In addition, identification of potentially modifiable factors associated with this variation may offer unique opportunities for alteration of risk of relapse and long-term outcome on a population level, and suggest putative biological mechanisms for relapse initiation.