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MS Prevalence Rates Tied to Socioeconomic Factors in New Study Funded by National MS Society

August 24, 2022

Socioeconomic factors, particularly healthcare expenditures per person, were significantly associated with MS prevalence in a study of more than 203 countries. The association was as significant as links to latitude (distance from the equator), long known to be a factor in MS risk. The study, partly funded by the National MS Society, speaks to the importance of ensuring that all people with MS have access to high quality and affordable care so that a timely and accurate diagnosis can be achieved.
  • People who live at higher latitudes – further from the equator – are more likely to have MS. This might be because vitamin D levels (from sunlight exposure) are lower at higher latitudes. Distance from the equator is also associated with increasing national wealth, so this team explored whether socioeconomic factors might also play a role in latitudinal differences in MS risk.
  • The research team from Johns Hopkins University and the University Teaching Hospital, Lusaka, Zambia, analyzed data from databases and scientific studies in 203 countries and territories. For each location, researchers examined factors related to the economy and health care expenditures. They also reviewed lifestyle factors such as obesity and tobacco use.
  • The results show significant associations between the national prevalence of MS (the number of people living with a diagnosis of MS within a given period of time) and all economic and health systems factors. The primary factors associated with increased rates of MS were greater health expenditure per person and higher latitude. Other factors included number of neurologists per person and number of MRI units per person. Associations with lifestyle factors were not significant.
  • The results show that socioeconomic factors may be affecting MS prevalence rates by affecting MS diagnosis and reporting. Further research is needed to confirm these findings and explore what strategies can improve the diagnosis of MS in areas with reduced resources.
Learn more…
  • Getting specific information on the prevalence and demographics of people living with MS is crucial to studies such as these, and will help deepen our understanding of healthcare access and other issues. The Society recently updated the prevalence of MS in the United States and helped the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation update the global prevalence.
  • Become an MS activist to help ensure access to quality healthcare for everyone living with MS.
Association of Multiple Sclerosis Prevalence With Sociodemographic, Health Systems, and Lifestyle Factors on a National and Regional Level” by Soonmyung Hwang, Maria A. Garcia-Dominguez, Kathryn C Fitzgerald, and Deanna R. Saylor, is published in Neurology (Published online August 24, 2022).

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.


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