DENVER (CBS4) – Colorado has one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis in the country. The cause of MS is still a mystery, and part of that mystery surrounds the role of genetics.

CBS4’s Karen Leigh met two sisters living with the disease who took a look at the DNA link.

Amy and Gretchen Mitterer are sisters and best friends. They shared everything growing up. They also share something they never expected — both are living with MS.

“I was diagnosed back in 1989,” Gretchen said.

They each lived a normal life. Then at age 28, Gretchen noticed slurred speech on a camping trip.

“My words weren’t articulating and I kept asking people, ‘Do I sound funny?'” Gretchen said.

Amy’s MS forces her to use a wheelchair. She first noticed her symptoms at 27 years old.

“Just gradual changes, but most noticeable when I was hiking and my foot would drop so I couldn’t pick it up to hike normally,” Amy said.

Both rely on medication to control the disease, but they wonder how they got it.

“I think environmental factors,” Amy said.

Doctors say it was likely a combination environmental and genetic factors.

“There’s no specific answer to the role of genetics in any circumstance, but we know that genetics plays a role,” Dr. Randy Schapiro with the Schapiro MS Advisory Group said.

Schapiro has been studying MS for 35 years. He says while MS is not directly inherited, genetics is one of the contributing factors.

“What we think happens; we think you inherit an immune system that isn’t so bad, but has the possibility to go bad, something has to trigger it,” he said. “Is it a virus, bacteria, is it something else? That’s what we don’t know.”

For the Mitterer sisters, they’ve learned to live with MS and are thankful to have each other.

“If I’m going to have a disease, and have my sister have the same disease, there’s not a better support group than having my sister right there with me,” Amy said.

Gretchen will ride in next weekend’s Bike MS and Amy will be there to cheer her on. CBS4’s Jim Benemann and Karen Leigh will also be riding along.

To donate to any of the teams or volunteer, visit the Bike MS website.


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