Multiple Sclerosis register a ‘powerful new resource’

Multiple sclerosis map confirms Scotland has one of the highest global rates of the disease & reveals stark regional differences

Monday 17th June 2019

A multiple sclerosis map confirms Scotland has one of the highest global rates of the disease – while revealing stark regional differences, the causes of which are not entirely clear.

Orkney continues to top the table for rates of multiple sclerosis (MS) in Scotland, a study has revealed, while Tayside has the highest incidence of the disease in mainland Scotland.

The central belt and Borders have the lowest rates of MS.

These are some of the findings of the Scottish MS Register – a national database with records of people diagnosed since 2010 and the first detailed snapshot of people affected by the disease across the country.

The study confirms that Scotland has one of the highest rates of MS diagnosis in the world.

It reveals that incidence of the disease varies substantially by region, even on the mainland.

Researchers found rates of diagnosis were three times higher in Orkney than the central belt and Borders.

Women are particularly susceptible, with rates of the disease double that of men. A woman in Orkney has a one in 50 chance of developing MS during her lifetime compared with around one in 600 for a man living in the Borders.

The study adds weight to previous findings that disease rates are greater in northern regions but suggests that other factors may also be important.

Figures show incidence of the disease in Shetland is more than one-third lower than in Orkney, despite Shetland being farther north.

Rates of MS in Tayside are almost double those in Lothian, however.

Further studies are needed to probe the underlying causes of regional and gender differences, researchers say.

The work was led by a team at the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic at the University of Edinburgh.

“The Scottish MS Register is a powerful new resource – the result of substantial far-sighted investment – which builds on the strength of the NHS in Scotland,” said Dr Patrick Kearns, Rowling Scholars Training Fellow at the university’s centre for clinical brain sciences.

“It allows us to study, in detail, the geographic risk of developing MS. There is much more work to be done, not least to further ensure the accuracy and precision of the register.

“However, our hope is that by understanding more precisely where the areas of higher and lower risk are found in Scotland, we can start to work out why.”