(MS) is the most widespread disabling neurological condition of young adults around the world. You can get MS at any age, but most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 
and 40

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There are relapsing/remitting types of MS and progressive types, but the course is never predictable. Researchers still don’t fully understand the causes of MS or why the rate of progression is so difficult to determine.

Despite much research, solid numbers about how many people have MS are hard to come by. There is no national or global registry for new MS cases, so figures are only estimates. The good news is that many people with MS do not become severely disabled and most live a normal or near-normal lifespan.


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It’s estimated that more than 400,000 people in the United States and about 2.5 million people around the world have MS. In the United States, about 200 new cases are diagnosed each week.

Rates of MS are higher farther from the equator. It’s estimated that in southern states (below the 37th parallel), the rate of MS is 57 to 78 cases per 100,000 people. In northern states (above the 37th parallel), the rate is twice as high, at about 110 to 140 cases per 100,000. The incidence of MS is also higher in colder climates.

No matter where they live, people of northern European descent have the highest risk of developing MS. The lowest risk appears to be among Native Americans, Africans, and Asians.

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Interestingly, a child who relocates from an area of low risk to an area of high risk (or the other way around) takes on the risk level of the new location. However, if the child relocates after reaching puberty, he or she retains the risk level of the original location. 

Risk Factors

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Among the general population, the risk of developing MS is .001 percent. The ratio of women with MS to men with the disease is two to one.

MS is not considered an inherited disorder, but researchers believe there may be a genetic predisposition to developing the disease. For example, if you have a parent or sibling with MS, you have a one to three percent chance of developing MS. An identical twin with MS raises your risk to 30 to 33 percent.

Researchers still aren’t certain what causes MS. One theory is that it’s a genetic predisposition combined with an environmental or viral factor. People with other autoimmune diseases, especially type 1 diabetes, thyroid disease, or inflammatory bowel disease are at slightly increased risk of developing MS.

Researchers are also studying the relationship between MS and infections such as Epstein-Barr, herpes, and varicella-zoster, among others. However, MS itself is not contagious.