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MS Statistics

Epidemiology, the branch of science that studies patterns in how diseases affect groups of people, continues to make important discoveries about MS that shed light on the cause(s) of the disease.

We know that MS is more common among people in Europe, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and sections of Australia and less common among people in Asia and the tropics. Within regions with temperate climates, cases of MS increase in incidence and prevalence farther from the equator (or in higher latitudes). The color-coded map below shows the number of people with MS throughout the world. Notice that greater numbers are found in higher northern and southern latitudes.

Figure 1. World distribution of multiple sclerosis: greater prevalence in higher northern and southern latitudes

It is estimated that in the United States (as of 2017) approximately 850,000 – 915,000 people were living with MS. These numbers are based on the rates of MS that were seen in 2010.1

Is MS more common in females than males?

MS is much more common in females than males, happening about 3 times more in women than in men. This is also true for other autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis.

In which age groups is MS most common?

MS can affect people of any age. However, it’s most prevalent in people between the ages of 45 and 64 years. The average age when MS symptoms first appear is between the ages of 30 and 35 years. Researchers have found that MS affects different age groups differently. For instance, people who are diagnosed when they are 50 years or older typically have a more progressive disease course.

Is MS more common in certain ethnic groups?

MS is more common among Caucasians and among people of Northern or Central European descent. By contrast, MS is less common among Hispanics, Asians, and in people of African descent. MS rarely occurs among some ethnic groups, such as Inuits, Aborigines, and Maoris.

Is MS becoming more common?

Compared with years ago, an increasing number of people are being diagnosed with MS. However, researchers are unsure if this means that the incidence of MS is increasing. Instead, it may be that there is increased awareness of MS and better diagnostic tools, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), for diagnosing the disease. Additionally, the availability of better treatment options may make physicians more willing to make a firm diagnosis of MS.

The possibility does exist that MS is increasing which may be linked to exposure to environmental factors, such as viruses or bacteria or toxins, or changes in lifestyle, or some, as of yet, unknown factor.

Organizations such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National MS Society, and the Parkinson’s Action Network are exploring the possibility of establishing a shared national registry for chronic neurologic diseases. Such an effort could shed light on important research questions about MS, including whether it is on the rise.

Written by: Jonathan Simmons | Last revised: February 2019.
  1. Wallin MT, Culpepper WJ, Campbell JD, et al. The prevalence of MS in the United States. Neurology. 15 Feb 2019. Available from: http://n.neurology.org/content/early/2019/02/15/WNL.0000000000007035. Accessed February 18, 2019.
  2. Aronson KJ. The epidemiology of multiple sclerosis--who gets MS and why? In: Kalb R, ed. Multiple Sclerosis: The Questions You Have - The Answers You Need. 5th ed. New York, NY: Demos Health; 2012:21-27.