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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.

Recommended Related to Multiple Sclerosis

Understanding the Different Types of Multiple Sclerosis

In some ways, each person with multiple sclerosis lives with a different illness. Although nerve damage is always involved, the pattern is unique for each individual with MS. Specific experiences with MS may vary widely, but doctors and researchers have identified several major types of MS. The categories are important because they help predict disease severity and response to treatment.

Read the Understanding the Different Types of Multiple Sclerosis article > >

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.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: March 12, 2014
    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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