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How Many People Live With MS?


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How many people live with multiple sclerosis?

Nearly one million people are living with MS in the United States, according to a study funded by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. This is more than twice the original estimate and means solutions for MS are now twice as important. A new study highlights that MS can be prevalent in any population in the United States.

Bar graph of MS prevalence estimate, pre-study estimate 300,000-400,000 people living with MS and 2017 estimate is 851,749-913,925. Bar graph of MS prevalence increase over 5 decades (per 100,000 U.S. residents): 58 in 1976; 85 in 1994; 210 in 2009; 309 in 2010; 362 in 2017.

Over 2.8 million people worldwide have MS.

Landmark study estimates new number of people living with MS

The Society funded a comprehensive study, published in the February 15, 2019, online issue of Neurology, to address a longstanding need to have a more accurate estimate of the number of people over the age of 18 with MS in the U.S. The study brought together some of the best experts in neurology, epidemiology and statistics.

The study estimates that up to 913,925 adults are living with MS in the U.S. This is two times the number previously reported in a 1975 national study and subsequent updates. In the general U.S. population, the risk of developing MS is about 1 in 333.

This breakthrough — a pivotal moment in the MS movement — helps us better understand the impact of the disease in the U.S.

Reasons for doing our own study of how many people have MS

Rates of MS are not consistently reported or tracked in the U.S., and there is no government requirement to do so. In the absence of government-reported data, the Society relies on scientifically sound estimates like the one from this study. At the same time, we are advocating for better and more systematic reporting and tracking at a nationwide level.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established the National Neurological Conditions Surveillance System in 2019. MS is one of the conditions being used to test the system and make improvements. The information collected will help researchers better understand the disease.

We are working with the CDC to help with the development and improvement of this system. This is a culmination of more than a decade of work by MS activists and others across the neurologic community.

Learn what we know now about who gets MS.

Is multiple sclerosis becoming more common?

We don’t know. Without complete information on the number of people diagnosed with MS, it has been difficult to tell whether more people are getting MS or if the total number is just a reflection of overall population growth and better diagnostic capabilities. Outside of the U.S., some studies have reported increases in the incidence of MS. More work is needed to understand all the factors that led to this increase.

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