What Age Is Multiple Sclerosis Usually Diagnosed?

MS strikes younger than you might think.

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We tend to associate most chronic diseases (think: diabetes, types of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis) with middle age or even later in life, but the neurological condition multiple sclerosis follows a different pattern.

MS is an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system, which makes it difficult to send messages between the brain and spinal cord. This leads to symptoms such as muscle weakness, tingling, and loss of balance. (Learn more symptoms of multiple sclerosis here.)

While these MS symptoms can make everyday tasks more challenging (walking, say, or using your hands for things like texting or cooking), it’s not related to the aging process. In fact, the average age of diagnosis with MS is 29, according to Michelle Fabian, MD, a neurologist at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “It’s very common to have patients diagnosed 10 years earlier than that,” says Dr. Fabian, “like 18.”

It’s also possible to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a little later, such as the mid- to late-40s. (Here’s how doctors diagnose multiple sclerosis.)

No matter what age, a diagnosis of MS tends to take new patients by surprise. “People are healthy, active, [and] they’re not expecting to get a chronic diagnosis,” says Dr. Fabian.

These young and otherwise-healthy patients with MS tend to want answers on what caused their MS, but the answer is not completely clear. Scientists suspect it’s a mix of different factors. Here are some possible triggers, according to Dr. Fabian.

  • Genetics

  • Environment, such as diet, pollution, smoking, or other forms of toxins

  • Weather or climate

  • Prior exposure to infections

Find more information about factors that may affect your risk of MS here.

While a diagnosis of MS in your 20-somethings can be shocking and upsetting, you have good reason to remain optimistic. Thanks to advancement in treatment for MS, your life may not alter much compared to before your diagnosis. Learn how new medication and therapy have changed the outlook for MS patients.