ABU DHABI // The number of Emiratis in the capital living with multiple sclerosis (MS) is more than twice the global average, a study revealed.
The autoimmune disorder affects 64.44 per 100,000 people in Abu Dhabi, while the World Health Organisation estimated average global prevalence was 30 per 100,000. Low vitamin D levels, smoking and genetic factors may be causes.
“The Abu Dhabi Emirati population has one of the highest, most reliable prevalence rates on the Arab peninsula,” it was reported in the How Global MS Prevalence is Changing: A Retrospective Chart Review in the United Arab Emirates study.
The report was carried out by Johns Hopkins University in conjunction with Tawam Hospital.
MS can lead to inflammation in the central nervous system, causing nerve impulses to slow or stop, and other neurological problems. It cannot be prevented and no cure exists.
“Traditionally, the prevalence of MS in the Arab world has been thought to be low,” said Nicoline Schiess, assistant professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins who worked on the study.
“However, as more studies are done in this region and there is more knowledge and awareness of the disease and the access to MRIs are increased, the data is starting to show that the difference in prevalence of MS between the Arab world and parts of the United States and western Europe are not as great as previously thought.
“I don’t think Emiratis are at any higher risk for MS, rather the risk is more consistent with western countries than previously thought.”
The Johns Hopkins University study looked at 510 MS patients – 318 Emiratis and 192 expatriates – who visited Tawam Hospital, Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, Mafraq Hospital and Al Ain Hospital between 2010 and 2014.
The average age of Emirati patients was 34.
Dr Taoufik Alsaadi, chief medical officer and chairman of the neurology department at the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology, said environmental, genetic and social factors may be triggers.
“Low vitamin D and smoking have all been linked to an increased risk of MS,” said the doctor.
“Genetics is a key factor here. We see families with MS. Consanguinity may be a factor.”
Women are almost twice as likely as men to have MS.
In at least 50 per cent of the cases, early symptoms include loss of or blurry vision and pain in the eyes.
“Weakness in one part of the body or tingling, numbness may be another presenting symptom,” said Dr Alsaadi.
“If a young person has any of these symptoms, careful evaluation and testing is needed.”
A study at Rashid Hospital in Dubai from 2000-2007 found that the prevalence of MS in Emiratis in the emirate was 54.77 per 100,000.
The study looked at 284 MS patients, of whom 158 were Emiratis.
The study also concluded that the prevalence of MS in Dubai was “surprisingly high”.
It recommended that a central MS registry be set up and long term follow-up studies be conducted.
“Studies have shown that people who have low vitamin D levels are at risk for MS,” said Prof Schiess.
“Probably the most important preventive thing one could do is to ensure vitamin D levels are at appropriate levels.