Multiple Sclerosis by the Numbers

A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease of the nervous system that affects both the brain and spinal cord, is not as grim as it used to be. In fact, "We now have many strategies to address some of the symptoms of MS through rehabilitation, lifestyle changes, and improved health care," says Nicholas LaRocca, Ph.D, vice president of Health Care Delivery and Policy Research at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. "We have strategies that help people with fatigue, fall risk, walking difficulty, depression, employment issues, and more." And medications can help with visual disturbances, muscle weakness, trouble with balance and coordination, and sensations like numbness and prickling.

Here's a look at some of the key numbers, provided by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

4: Number of types of multiple sclerosis. In the most common form of the disease, relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), individuals experience clearly defined attacks of worsening neurologic (nervous system) function. Some 85% of people with MS are initially diagnosed with this form of the disease.

Secondary-progressive MS (SPMS) is what most people first diagnosed with RRMS will eventually getóthe disease starts a more steady progression.

Some 10 percent of MS patients are immediately diagnosed with primary-progressive MS (PPMS). These patients experience steadily worsening symptoms right from the start, without distinct relapses or remissions.

Finally, the least common form of the disease, progressive-relapsing MS (PRMS) presents by steadily progressing disease right from the date of diagnosis, with exacerbations occurring occasionally.

2.3 million: Number of people around the world who have multiple sclerosis.

400,000: Estimated number of people in the United States with multiple sclerosis. (The figure is most likely higher, LaRocca says.)

20: The start of the age range at which itís most common to be diagnosed with MS. From age 20 to age 50 is when a person is most likely to be diagnosed.

8,000: Number of children in the U.S. thought to have MS; the number could be as high as 10,000.

25,000: Number of children in the U.S. who display MS symptoms, but have not yet been diagnosed.

5: Percentage of adults with MS who experienced their first episode in childhood.

12: Number of FDA-approved disease-modifying treatments for MS. Approved for the relapsing forms of MS (these include relapsing-remitting MS, progressive-relapsing MS, and secondary-progressive MS with relapses), these drugs can reduce the frequency and severity of relapses and may slow the progress of disability in patients. "And with so many choices available, if one therapy does not work there are others available, bringing us closer to personalized medicine than at any time in the past," LaRocca adds.

13: Number of medications approved to treat bladder problems in individuals with MS.

While there are now a variety of medications to treat MS, LaRocca says that further research is crucial. In particular, therapies for individuals living with the progressive forms of MS are needed. "People with the progressive forms of MS currently benefit from some of the progress we have made in addressing symptoms and lifestyle, but there is a critical need for therapies that can slow or halt the progression of their disease and, if possible, restore lost function."

Overall, the outcome for those with MS is more positive than ever. "We have seen an improvement in life expectancy," LaRocca says. "Use of disease-modifying therapies can make a big difference, and improved medical care for potentially life-threatening complications has helped."

Nicholas LaRocca, Ph.D, reviewed this article.


Nicholas LaRocca, Ph.D. Email interview March 1, 2015.

Arney Rosenblat, Associate vice president, public affairs, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Phone interview on February 26, 2015.

"Treating MS." National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Page accessed March 20, 2015.

"Multiple Sclerosis: Just the Facts." National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Accessed March 1, 2015.

"Multiple Sclerosis Information Page." National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Accessed March 1, 2015.

"Types of MS." National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Accessed March 15, 2015.