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Multiple Sclerosis and Geographic Location - Topic Overview

The number of people who have multiple sclerosis (MS) increases the farther away they are from the equator.

In areas near the equator, MS occurs in fewer than 1 out of 100,000 people. In areas farther from the equator—such as northern Europe and northern North America—MS occurs in around 30 to 80 out of 100,000 people.1 When moving south of the equator, the number of people with MS is less dramatic, but the same trend is seen.

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Living with multiple sclerosis means living with uncertainty. The course of the disease is very difficult for doctors to predict. Some people live with MS for years without suffering serious symptoms. Others may rapidly become disabled. Why the course of the disease varies so widely remains unclear. One thing is certain. Most people with MS experience periodic relapses, also called flare-ups or attacks. These can be mild or severe. They may show up in many different ways. Symptoms can include: ...

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Some evidence suggests that people who move from a high-risk to a low-risk area before the age of 15 reduce their chances of developing MS. But the same is true in reverse. In those who move from a low-risk area to a high-risk area before the age of 15, the risk of getting MS increases. Those older than 15 when they move to a new area retain the risk associated with their old area.1

Most experts agree that this unusual relationship between geographic location and MS suggests that an environmental factor is partly responsible for causing the disease.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 15, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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