Featured image of wooden tiles linked together illustrating how MS patients less likely to have other autoimmune conditions

UK MS diagnosis rate stays constant for 20 years with MS patients LESS likely to have other autoimmune conditions

The multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis rate has stayed constant in the UK in the last 20 years, a population-based study which involved more than 22 million people has found.

Women in this study were found to be twice as likely as men to receive a diagnosis of MS.

Many autoimmune conditions were found to occur together, but MS stood out because it had less coexisting conditions, which researchers said suggests it is a distinct disease compared with other autoimmunities. Around 10 per cent of people in the UK have an autoimmune condition, according to the study’s data.

More than 80 different kinds of autoimmune diseases have been described by the medical profession, ranging from conditions such as type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis to ankylosing spondylitis and lupus.

For this study, a group of specialists came together to investigate 19 common autoimmune diseases.

The study looked at health records from 22 million people in the UK, from the year 2000 to 2019. During this time, 15,634 people were newly diagnosed with MS. The median age for diagnosis was 45, with most people diagnosed between 36 and 56.

The rate of diagnosis remained almost constant during the two decades, with an incidence of 10.4 per 100,000 person years from the year 2000 to 2002 and 10.6 between 2017 and 2019. Person years is a measurement of the amount of people in the study and the amount of tie each person spent in the study – so a study of 1,000 people for a year would be said to have 1,000 person years.

Of the 19 autoimmune diseases picked for the study, 10.2% of people were affected.

Across all the data, the suggestion was that a lot of autoimmune conditions occur together with the highest association being amongst conditions affecting connective tissue, in particular Sjögren’s syndrome, lupus and systemic sclerosis. Childhood-onset type 1 diabetes also co-occurred with Addison’s disease, celiac disease and thyroid diseases.

In contrast to these findings, MS had low rates of co-occurrence with other autoimmune conditions, which suggests distinct underlying disease mechanism.

The only condition found to occur slightly more with MS was myasthenia gravis, but the link was weak. There was also a weak inverse association with some autoimmune conditions and MS, meaning people with the condition were actually less likely to be diagnosed with other diseases, though the link was only significant in vitiligo.

“Our study highlights the considerable burden that autoimmune diseases place upon individuals and the wider population,” the researchers said. “Disentangling the commonalities and differences within this large and varied set of conditions is a complex task.”

The study’s authors said there needs to be increased research to understand the underlying causes of autoimmune conditions to support the development of targeted interventions.

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