Who can get Multiple Sclerosis?
Worldwide there are approximately 2.5 million people with multiple sclerosis. The figure could be much higher as people with mild symptoms may never seek medical help.
It is one of the most common neurological diseases with nearly twice as many female sufferers than male. It is very much regarded as a young adults' disease with the majority of people being diagnosed in their 20s and 30s.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (http://www.nmss.org) the average onset of the disease is usually around 28 and the average diagnosis takes place around the age of 33. But this gap is shortening because of improved diagnosis and public awareness of the condition.
The Risk of Developing Multiple Sclerosis
It is not contagious and it is not directly hereditary, although if you have a close relative with MS, researchers have found that your risk of developing the disease increases to one in 100. The average risk of developing MS is one in 1000. Some medics believe that there could be a genetic predisposition which makes some families susceptible to whatever causes the disease.
For some unknown reason which still has the world's greatest researchers puzzled, MS is more common in Caucasians living in the northern hemisphere, in countries furthest away from the equator.
Canada has the highest prevalence of MS in the world followed closely by Scotland . That doesn't mean that Hispanics, Africans or Asians never develop MS but the disease is virtually unheard of in countries such as Japan, Malaysia , sub-Sahara Africa and South America .
Some researchers believe these geographic trends could be down to genetic factors, viruses or environmental agents more prevalent in some parts of the world than others. But so far no-one has come up with a definite answer as to why some people get it and others don't.
Traditionally MS has been regarded as a disease which develops in adolescence and much of the research into it has been conducted accordingly. However since 1980, in the USA alone, around 400 cases of childhood MS have come to light.
Early symptoms have been seen in children as young as 13 months with diagnosis as young as two. Thanks to new technology, such as MRI scanning, and a growing acceptance among the medical profession that childhood MS does exist, the number of children diagnosed worldwide is steadily growing.
Several studies indicate that the pattern mirrors that of adult MS with more girls being diagnosed than boys.
Late onset is also being studied and could be more common than previously thought. In research carried out in America more than 9% of people in the study diagnosed with MS experienced their first symptoms after the age of 50. Because health problems grow as you get older it does beg the question whether MS could be overlooked among the elderly and that there are in fact more older people out there with late onset MS than first thought.