Skip to navigation Skip to content



Asian Americans and MS: New Study Yields Insight into This Diverse Group

September 6, 2023

Asian Americans with MS are likely to be younger when diagnosed, and those from Southeast Asia in particular may experience more severe MS, according to a new study of 282 people at the University of California, San Francisco. This is a novel investigation of an understudied, diverse population, and begins to offer insights needed to provide quality care to all people who have MS.

Background: Research has demonstrated that MS occurs in most ethnic groups in the U.S., including Black people, White people, Hispanic/Latinx people, and people of Asian descent. Susceptibility rates vary among these groups. It is important to understand how MS affects people from various backgrounds so that we can improve access to personalized, affordable, high-quality healthcare for ALL people who have MS.

The Study: Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco collected data on 282 people who obtained care for their MS or similar diseases between 2006 and 2022 and who identified as being of Asian descent in their electronic health records. San Francisco is an ideal setting for this study, since people of Asian descent are the dominant minority population.

Information was collected on country and region of ancestry:  East Asia (China, Japan, and Korea); South Asia (India and Pakistan); Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam); and Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan). More than 75% of the study group had MS. For people with MS, the date of symptom onset and diagnosis, use of disease-modifying therapy, disease severity, and imaging scans were reviewed. The results were compared with people with MS cared for at the same Center, who were not of Asian descent.

Results: The study group most often had ancestors from China or India. None were descended from Central Asia. As a whole, people of Asian descent had an earlier onset of symptoms and diagnosis of MS than those who were not. People descended from Southeast Asia had worse disease severity compared to those from other regions and individuals who were not Asian, and they tended to live in neighborhoods with lower income, were more likely to currently smoke, and experienced a longer interval between symptom onset and diagnosis.

Why does this matter?  MS is not as common in people of Asian descent, and there hasn’t been a lot of study of this population. Individuals of Asian ancestry descend from many regions and countries, and live in a variety of settings in the United States, so understanding the diversity and experience of this group is important for teasing out differences that might be attributable to genes, the environment, or socioeconomic issues. This study is an important step toward that understanding.

Learn more… “Characteristics of multiple sclerosis and demyelinating disease in an Asian American population” by Jessica H Fan, Jessa Alexander, Shane Poole, Jaeleene Wijangco, Lily J Henson, Ruth Dobson, Chu-Yueh Guo, and Riley Bove is published in The MS Journal (First published online August 7).

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.


© 2023 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is a tax exempt 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Its Identification Number (EIN) is 13-5661935.