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Socioeconomic Factors Linked to Vision and Mental Health in People with MS, Says New Research Funded by Society

December 29, 2021

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University report two studies of the impact of socioeconomic status on MS; the studies show links to increases in retinal nerve fiber damage and vision loss, and to depression and anxiety. Further study is needed to understand the nature of these associations, but the data highlight the importance of understanding the role of socioeconomic factors in MS and yield clues to minimizing their impact. This research was partly funded by the National MS Society.
  • Improving access to quality MS care across the cultural and socioeconomic spectrum means understanding how each group experiences and perceives the disease and identifying factors that limit access to care.
  • In one study, researchers assessed whether socioeconomic status was associated with retinal nerve fiber damage and vision loss using optical coherence tomography (a scan of the nerves in the back of the eye). They analyzed 789 people in whom socioeconomic information (using postal codes) was available within 10 years of MS onset. Lower socioeconomic status was associated with faster rates of retinal nerve damage and vision loss. Those in the most disadvantaged group were more likely to be female, Black, current smokers, and obese.
  • The results also show an association between lower socioeconomic status and the development of comorbidities (coexisting conditions such as high blood pressure, depression, and sleep apnea). The authors note that further study is warranted to determine the reason for these associations, and particularly, to determine if addressing the comorbidities can offset the impact of socioeconomic status on MS progression.
  • In a second study, this team explored associations between socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, and mental health. Information on 2,095 people with MS was collected via a national web-based survey. Socioeconomic status was determined using postal codes.
  • Those with the lowest socioeconomic status were more likely to be either Black or Hispanic/Latinx. Lower socioeconomic status, but not race/ethnicity, was associated with depression and anxiety. Those with a higher socioeconomic status were more likely to report that symptoms improved after receiving mental health care. A higher proportion of Black and Hispanic/Latinx people were more likely to report they would “definitely go” receive mental health care if services were in the same place as their MS care providers.
Although more information is needed to understand the nature of the associations between MS and socioeconomic status, these studies provide important information on the importance of studying these links to ensure that everyone affected by MS has access to the care they need.
Learn more about…
  • Wellness strategies that can minimize the risk of developing comorbidities like high blood pressure
  • Resources for your MS journey, regardless of socioeconomic status
  • Opportunities to advocate for change so that every person with MS has meaningful access to a comprehensive network of providers to meet his or her unique needs
Socioeconomic disparity is associated with faster retinal neurodegeneration in multiple sclerosis by Eleni S. Vasileiou, Angeliki G. Filippatou, Daniela Pimentel Maldonado, Grigorios Kalaitzidis, Henrik Ehrhardt, Jeffrey Lambe, Shiv Saidha, Elias S. Sotirchos, Ellen M. Mowry, Peter A. Calabresi1 and Kathryn C. Fitzgerald, is published in Brain 2021: 00; 4–10.
The Impact of Socioeconomic Status on Mental Health and Health-Seeking Behavior Across Race and Ethnicity in a Large Multiple Sclerosis Cohort by Daniela A. Pimentel Maldonado, Justin R. Eusebio, Lilyana Amezcua, Eleni S. Vasileiou, Ellen M. Mowry, Christopher C. Hemond, Raffaella Umeton (Pizzolato), Idanis Berrios Morales, Irina Radu, Carolina Ionete, Kathryn C. Fitzgerald, is published in MS and Related Disorders (2022;58:103451)

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.


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