Epidemiology is essentially the study of disease in people. It looks at the patterns, causes and effects of health and disease conditions in defined populations.

Epidemiological studies have helped to identify factors that may be related to the risk of developing MS, such as latitude, migration patterns, genetics and infectious processes – read more about Causes of MS.

According to the Atlas of MS, there are about 2.8 million people in the world with MS, although the number may be much higher as it is likely that many people with MS remain undiagnosed in certain parts of the world.

Although MS is found in all parts of the world, its prevalence varies greatly, being highest in North America and Europe, and lowest in sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia. It is almost unheard of in certain populations such as the Inuits, New Zealand Maoris and Australian Aborigines.

MS affects two to three times as many women as men, suggesting a role of hormones in the disease process.

Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40, although around three to five per cent of people with MS are diagnosed as children, and it can occur in much older adults.

On a street in China a young man takes tentative steps using crutches. His mother looks on.

After years in a wheelchair Little Gao is able to walk a few steps with crutches. It is good for him to flex the muscles in his legs and aids his physical recovery. Reproduced with the kind permission of Li YouHao,© 2014 Li

Two people drinking coffee outside in the sunshine

Thessaloniki, Greece, 10/2011. (Left) Lefteris Dimitros and (Right) Vasiliki Garopoulou enjoying a coffee at the Aristotle Universtiy A.U.Th campus. Vasiliki comes here almost every Sunday. Credit: Maximiliano Braun. Published on this website by kind permission of the European Multiple Sclerosis Platform.