MS Prevalence at Over 2.8 Million Worldwide, Update to Atlas Reports

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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Atlas of MS update

More than 2.8 million people worldwide are now estimated to be living with multiple sclerosis (MS), including about 1 million in the United States, an update to the Atlas of MS reports.

An increase since its previous update, this number translates to someone, somewhere in the world, being newly diagnosed with the disease every five minutes, the National MS Society announced in a press release on the update.

A data-collecting study led by the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF) and funded by the National MS Society, among others, the atlas provides up-to-date information about MS and its “global footprint.”

It was first published in 2008, and updated in 2013. For this newest update, the atlas’ epidemiology survey was completed by experts from 115 countries, representing 87% of the Earth’s population, between September 2019 and March 2020.

MS prevalence, data show, has increased in every world region — rising from an 2.3 million people affected in 2013 to 2.8 million in 2020.

This increase is not thought to necessarily be because the chance of developing MS has risen. Rather, at least some of the rise is likely due to more accurate counting, more accurate diagnoses, and general population growth, the MSIF stated in the Atlas of MS 3rd edition.

“Since the last edition of the Atlas of MS in 2013, we have seen continued improvement in diagnostic guidelines and their global adoption is enabling many people with MS to be diagnosed earlier in the disease course. This is one of the factors contributing to our higher estimate of the total number of people living with MS,” Peer Baneke, CEO of the MS International Federation, wrote.

The 3rd edition also places the prevalence of pediatric MS, or disease diagnosed in people under age 18, at 30,000 worldwide.Based on atlas data, researchers can look for trends in who develops MS according to age, race, and geographical location. Such  analyses may help to clarify what driving the increase seen in MS prevalence, and in identifying populations at highest risk.

Robust epidemiological data is also thought to be crucial in helping to inform decision making regarding policies and healthcare interventions for people with MS.

The National MS Society is working with the Centers for Disease Control on the launch of the National Neurological Conditions Surveillance System, a project that aims to collect data on a wide range of neurological diseases, including MS.