Blue Cross Blue Shield Association report finds Syracuse has the highest multiple sclerosis diagnosis rate in the country

Syracuse, N.Y.  ̶  The multiple sclerosis diagnosis rate in the Syracuse area is higher than anywhere else in the country, according to a new study of medical claims by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

In examining medical claims from more than 41 million commercially insured members of Blue Cross Blue Shield companies, the study found that the national multiple sclerosis diagnosis rate was 24 per 10,000 commercially insured Americans in 2017.

That same year, the multiple sclerosis diagnosis rate was 45 per 10,000 commercially insured people in Syracuse, the highest rate among the metropolitan statistical areas examined in the study. The New York state rate was 31 per 10,000 of those who were commercially insured.

“It’s startling to see such high multiple sclerosis diagnosis rates in Syracuse and New York state, compared with rates in the nation as a whole,” said Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Richard Lockwood, M.D. “Other eye-opening facts in the report are that 75 percent of those diagnosed with multiple sclerosis are women, and that the average age of someone living with multiple sclerosis is 47.”

The report also found that compared to the overall population, commercially insured Americans with multiple sclerosis are:

  • Three times more likely to have behavioral health conditions, including major depression and substance use disorder.
  • Two to three times more likely to experience chronic health conditions, such as hypertension and high cholesterol.

“With about half of the people living with multiple sclerosis also battling at least one other chronic health condition, it’s not surprising that on average, they lose 14.8 years of healthy life,” said Lockwood. “The medical community must continue its search for a cure, along with its focus on diagnosis, symptom management and treatment so that people who are affected can lead a healthy, productive and fulfilling life.”

Multiple sclerosis is a lifelong disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the body’s ability to send neurological signals within and between the brain and other parts of the body. While multiple sclerosis symptoms vary, they often include progressive physical and cognitive decline. The cause of multiple sclerosis is not known, and there is no cure yet. Food and Drug Administration-approved medications can work to slow the course of the disease and its progression.

More than 520,000 commercially insured Americans were living with multiple sclerosis in 2017, according to the report.

This is the 27th study of the Blue Cross Blue Shield “The Health of America Report®” series. For more information, visit