Multiple Sclerosis: key points

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic and disabling disease that usually starts in young adulthood.
  • It is generally more common in countries in the Northern hemisphere and commoner in northern than southern parts of the UK.
  • Data from routine statistics tend to underestimate the incidence and prevalence of MS. Data from special surveys are likely to be more reliable, but the estimates are affected by whether strict or broad diagnostic criteria are used.
  • With these caveats, MS probably affects around 10,000 people in Scotland.
  • There is a lack of reliable national data on survival and mortality.

Key statistics:

  Males Females All
Number of new cases diagnosed in 2012 185 (2) 453 (2) 638 (1)
Number of cases in Scotland in 2012 2880 7056 9936(3)
Number of deaths in 2012 38 84 122 (4)


(1) This is an approximate estimate based on the crude incidence of definite or probable cases of 12.0/100,000/yr in Lothian and Borders (Rothwell and Charlton (1998)) and the estimated 2012 mid year population of Scotland (5,313,600).

(2) Estimate based on the female:male prevalence ratio of 2.45 (Rothwell and Charlton (1998) - no figures were reported for the sex ratio among incident cases) .

(3) Derived from the crude prevalence of definite or probable cases of 187/100,000 in Lothian and Borders combined (Rothwell and Charlton (1998)). The crude prevalence figure given by Rothwell and Charlton may be more appropriate for estimating Scottish prevalence than the age-standardised figure given in their paper. The standardised figure is standardised to the 1961 population of Northern Ireland, which has a lower proportion of older people than the population of Scotland in 2004. MS is less common in older age groups and so the estimate standardised to the younger population of Northern Ireland will tend to overestimate the prevalence in Scotland in 2008. This figure is consistent with the crude prevalence of 183/100,000 from the 1999 Tayside study by Forbes and Swingler (Forbes and Swingler (1999)).

(4) Deaths where the underlying cause of death was multiple sclerosis (International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Tenth revision (ICD10) code: G35. Source: National Records of Scotland (formerly General Register Office for Scotland) Vital Events Reference Tables (Table 6.4).


Section updates:

  • The last major update of this section was completed in September 2017.
  • The next review and update is due to be carried out by end December 2017.