Who Gets Multiple Sclerosis?


Multiple sclerosis is a disease that affects the nervous system: the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Since the nervous system controls every move our bodies make, the damage can cause vision problems, difficulty moving and controlling the muscles, trouble balancing, and potentially hinders other bodily functions. The cause of the disease isn’t quite known.

Incidence and Prevalence of MS

Estimates by epidemiologists show that one in every 750 adults in the US will be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Most people are diagnosed between ages twenty and fifty, but diagnosis is certainly not exclusive to that age range.

The further you move from the equator, the higher the prevalence of MS diagnosis gets. Certain populations see very low to non-existent diagnosis rates regardless of the region where they live, but their risk of MS diagnosis increases if they move from their native lands to a place where MS is more common. These figures show that the cause of MS is likely a very complicated mix of genetic and environmental factors.

Genetic Factors

Gender is one genetic factor that is a relatively large determining factor of MS risk. Women are two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with MS. However, this is thought to be due to changing hormones in females rather than female genetics.

Generally speaking, the prevalence of MS doesn’t go up an incredible amount for first degree relatives of people diagnosed with MS. People with an immediate family member with MS such as siblings or the children of people with MS are only diagnosed with MS 2.5% to 5% more often than the general population. As you see, the risk is increased, but not that much. For identical twins of people with MS, the chance is substantially higher. They are 25% more likely than the general population to be also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

The disease occurs more often in non-white populations, like those of African, Asian, or Hispanic descent. Caucasian people most likely to be diagnosed have ancestry in Northern Europe.

Finding Answers

Scientists can use these sorts of facts to try to narrow down why people get MS and come up with a way to further decrease its prevalence. Understanding what causes the disease may also lead to more effective treatments for the disease.