This chapter provides information on the epidemiology of multiple sclerosis (MS), the most common disabling neurological disease in young adults. It describes the clinical and pathologic features of MS and how these features pose challenges for clinical diagnosis and case definition criteria. Information is provided regarding the descriptive epidemiology of MS, including studies of incidence, prevalence, and temporal trends in MS frequency. Also included is a discussion of the interesting geographical features of the MS distribution, including MS disease clusters, the latitude gradient in disease risk, and migrant studies of individuals who move from high-risk to low-risk regions. Other sections of the chapter cover evidence regarding the infectious etiology of MS, including the important role that Epstein-Barr virus appears to play in disease susceptibility. The role of lifestyle factors is receiving increasing emphasis in MS epidemiologic studies, and evidence is summarized regarding the potential role of cigarette smoking, diet, and hormonal factors.
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