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    Study Finds that the Incidence of MS Appears to be Higher in African American Women Than in Caucasians, Contradicting Previous Findings

    May 6, 2013

    A new study of 496 people newly diagnosed with MS found that the risk of developing MS was 47% higher in African American women, compared with Caucasian American men or women. It also found that the risk was 50% lower in Hispanic/Latino Americans, and 80% lower in Asian Americans. Previous research had indicated that the risk of MS was lower in blacks than whites, so these findings warrant further study in a larger sample. Annette Langer-Gould, MD, PhD, and colleagues (Kaiser Permanente, Southern California, Pasadena) report their findings in Neurology (2013;80:1734).

    Background: Epidemiology is the study of populations to examine disease patterns, including variations in geography, demographics, socioeconomic status, genetics, environmental risk factors, and exposure to infectious agents.  Studies of incidence (the number of new cases of a condition diagnosed within a set period of time) are one of the ways to explore who is at greater risk.   These studies provide vital information about relationships among various risk factors, so that we can better understand who gets MS and why, identify and explain areas with high or low rates of the disease, and assist in planning for health care and other services. Research shows that MS occurs in most ethnic groups, including African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics/Latinos, but is more common in Caucasians of northern European ancestry.

    Lead investigator Dr. Langer-Gould has published previously on the epidemiology of MS, and is currently funded by the Society to investigate factors that may affect the risk of an MS relapse after delivery of a child.

    The Study: In this study, funded by Kaiser Permanente Community Benefits Fund, Dr. Langer-Gould and colleagues reviewed the records of people diagnosed with MS at Kaiser Permanente between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2010.  These records were drawn from the database of Kaiser Permanente Southern California, a large prepaid health maintenance organization with more than 3.5 million members. They identified 496 people in the Kaiser database who were newly diagnosed with MS within this time frame. Of the newly diagnosed, African American women, but not men, were found to have a 47% increased risk of MS compared with Caucasian Americans. Hispanic/Latino Americans had a 50% decreased risk; and Asian Americans had an 80% decreased risk.

    Comment: This study suggests that African American women have a higher than previously reported risk of developing MS. “This is an interesting finding that warrants further research in larger numbers of people,” says Timothy Coetzee, PhD, Chief Research Officer of the Society. “Studies like this one can help the National MS Society address the needs of people with MS. Understanding  more about why such differences in MS risk exist may provide clues that will help us end MS forever.”

    Read more about research to end MS.

    Read more about the Society’s African American Advisory Council, and visit the community group for African Americans.


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