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Canada: Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Capital of the World

May 20, 2015

While few people outside of the multiple sclerosis community realize it, Canada is actually the multiple sclerosis capital of the world. The rate of multiple sclerosis is higher in Canada than in any other country in the world, and no one knows why.

How Many People Are Affected By Multiple Sclerosis?

In Canada, nearly 100,000 people have multiple sclerosis and this is 28% more than in Denmark, the country with the second highest rates of multiple sclerosis. Canada’s rate is nine times higher than the global average. According to a 2013 study, the follow are the numbers of people who suffer from multiple sclerosis in the top 10 countries (out of 100,000),

  • Canada: 291multiple sclerosis ribbon
  • Denmark: 227
  • Sweden: 189
  • Hungary: 176
  • Cyprus: 175
  • U.K.: 164
  • Czech Rep.: 160
  • Norway: 160
  • Germany: 149
  • Austria: 140

And perhaps the most upsetting part of these numbers is that in the years 2008-2013, the incidence of MS in Canada has more than doubled while the global increase is only 10%. In 2008, Canada ranked fifth at 132.5 cases per 100,000 people, just behind the United States at 135.

Some neurologists do believe these numbers are not 100% accurate and these numbers may have a lot to do with reporting systems. In Maclean’s magazine, Canadian neurologist George Ebers is pleased to see MS finally framed as a health crisis in Canada but he also believes that Scotland’s rates of MS are much higher.

What Is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?

According to Medscape, multiple sclerosis is as immune-mediated inflammatory disease. This disease attacks the myelin, the protective outer sheath on axons (the part of a nerve cell along which impulses are conducted from the cell body to other cells) which destroys the myelin and axon in varying degrees. More than 30% of patients with MS suffer significant physical disability within 20-25 years of onset. Multiple sclerosis is typically diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 40. In Canada, the average age of onset is 31.

Classic signs and symptoms of MS vary, and include (among others):

  • Spinal cord symptoms (motor or autonomic): Muscle cramping secondary to spasticity or bladder, bowel, and sexual dysfunctionSclerosis disease symbol isolated on white
  • Facial myokymia (irregular twitching of the facial muscles): May also be a presenting symptom
  • Eye symptoms: Including diplopia on lateral gaze (33% of patients)
  • Heat intolerance
  • Constitutional symptoms: Especially fatigue (70% of cases) and dizziness
  • Pain: Occurs in 30-50% of patients at some point in their illness
  • Subjective cognitive difficulties: With regard to attention span, concentration, memory, and judgment
  • Depression: A common symptom
  • Euphoria: Less common than depression
  • Bipolar disorder or frank dementia: May be a late finding but is sometimes found at initial diagnosis

For a complete list of MS signs and symptoms see here.

Why is Canada the Multiple Sclerosis Capital of the World?

No one is sure why Canada is the multiple sclerosis capital of the world. Some people point to environmental factors such as a lack of vitamin D through lack of sun exposure. Other theories include:

  • Canadians may have earlier exposure to viruses that might play a role in triggering MS.
  • Canadians may share a genetic predisposition to the disease.

Smoking also appears to increase one’s risk for MS.

While Ebers believes that Canada is the perfect research incubator to investigate causality, he also calls multiple sclerosis a crisis that has been in plain sight for decades.

“We’ve seen rising rates since the ’30s. We have a disease that costs a couple of million a lifetime; it’s gender-specific, with three times as many women being diagnosed. It should have been treated as a four-alarm fire.”


“This article was written by award-winning mental health writer and speaker, Natasha Tracy.”

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