Multiple sclerosis

  • MS is the most common disease of the central nervous system and one of the most common disabling illnesses of young adults.

  • MS mainly affects people in the prime of their lives, aged between 20-40 years old.  At the point of diagnosis, their lives will change forever; uncertainty, stress and vulnerability will become part of each day as they join the 2,800,000 people already living with this condition for which there is currently no cure.

  • MS is more common in women - three times as many women are diagnosed

  • MS is a debilitating illness which affects people in different ways. There are a diverse range of symptoms  from blurred vision, weak limbs, unsteadiness to fatigue. MS most commonly follows a pattern of relapses (or exacerbation) and remissions, or it can follow a progressive pattern, steadily worsening over time. Whichever form MS takes, it makes life very unpredictable for those affected by the disease.

  • There is no known cure for MS however there is a rapidly-growing evidence-base indicating that lifestyle factors play a key role in managing the illness and in some cases slowing or even halting the progression of the disease.

  • There are currently 12 medical treatments (disease modifying drugs) available for relapsing remitting MS on the NHS, and one drug will be available for primary progressive MS for people who fit a set of criteria. There are 50- 60 clinical drug trials currently taking place. 

  • Download our MS terminology guide

Number of people who have multiple sclerosis (MS)

  • Over 2.8 million people are living with MS worldwide.

  • MS is more common among people in Europe, the US, Canada, New Zealand and parts of Australia and less common within regions closer to the equator.

The prevalence of MS varies, even in the UK. Based on the figure of nearly 130,000 people with MS in Britain, it is estimated that the number of people with MS in individual UK countries is as follows:

  • there are around 11,300 people diagnosed with MS in Scotland, which has the highest density of MS in the UK of 209 per 100,000
  • around 90,500 MS people with MS in England, 164 per 100,000
  • around 4,300 people with MS in Wales, 138 per 100,000
  • around 3,200 people with MS in Northern Ireland, 175 per 100,000

Prevalence in the north of Scotland is particularly high. A study of north east Scotland found levels per 100,000 people (in 2009) to be 229 in Aberdeen, 295 in Shetland and 402 in Orkney. (Interestingly there is evidence to show there is a link between lack of vitamin D (produced naturally from exposure to sunlight) and MS. See 1. below.)

A little over 5,000 people are diagnosed with MS each year in the UK, roughly 100 a week.

Outside the UK: 

  • In Europe over 700,000 people have MS.

  • In Australia, 23,000 people are estimated to have MS, with a further 1,000 Australians diagnosed each year.

  • In New Zealand 4,000 people have MS, which equates to one in a thousand.

  • In the US 1 million people are living with MS

Economic impact

  •  In the UK it’s estimated that we lost £100 billion last year to sickness across all conditions 
  •  For every person moved from ill health into employment, UK plc saves around £12 thousand pounds per year 
  •  On average a person with MS loses 10 years of working life  
  •  If we gave 50% of those people an extra 5 years of working life, that equates to £150 million saving each year in pure economic terms

Overcoming MS in numbers

  • The Overcoming MS charity was established in 2012 by current Chair, Linda Bloom. Her passion is to reach people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis around the world and provide them with the important information that has benefited her own recovery from multiple sclerosis.
  • Tens of thousands of people across the world are following the OMS recovery program and now living healthy lives, relatively free of the usual problems associated with MS.
  • 102 Overcoming MS Circles established in 22 countries providing support, tips and advice and to those following the OMS program around the world.
  • 1,500+ people are now a member of an OMS Circle worldwide, which is steadling growing. 
  • There have been over 80 week-long residential retreats a day-long conferences in the UK, Australia and the US started by Professor Jelinek in 2000
  • 13,800+ people are members of the OMS Forum connecting people with MS and allowing discussions
  • 5,500+ of Professor Jelinek's book 'Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis' have been distributed to newly diagnosed people with MS in the UK since 2016


  • The Neuroepidemiology Unit (NEU) of the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne was formed in 2015, building on the international profile in MS prevention of its founder Professor George Jelinek. More information here.

  • A recent five-year-long study from the NEU team entitled Health Outcomes and Lifestyle Interventions in a Sample of People with Multiple Sclerosis (HOLISM) studied 2,500 people with MS, from 57 countries and indicates that those who engaged with the OMS program benefited from a 23% improvement in mental health, 18% improvement in physical health and overall had a 20% improvement in their quality of life.