As recently as 15 years ago, many people in the medical community viewed MS as a disease that predominantly affected those of European descent
But is it just less studied? A 2015 article written by six noted MS researchers and published in Neurology Clinical Practice
, reported that out of nearly 60,000 published articles about MS, only 113, or about 0.2 percent, focus on African-Americans.
- A 2012 study of military personnel published in Military Medicine reported 46 percent more cases of MS in blacks than in non-Hispanic whites.
- And a 2013 study found that blacks had a 47 percent increased risk of MS compared with whites. The study, which was published in Neurology, also found that among blacks, women had triple the risk of MS compared with men. This mirrors the increased risk of MS among women of northern European ancestry.
A follow-up study found that about 26 percent of blacks have a family history of MS
, a rate similar to that of whites.
The myth that black people do not get MS is just that — a myth. With such pervasive evidence of MS in African-Americans, doctors consider it as a potential diagnosis much more readily now.
There’s some evidence that MS can manifest differently and be especially active in African-Americans:
- more likely to experience more relapses
- more likely to experience greater disability
- have a greater risk of progressing to require ambulatory assistance earlier
- more likely to develop involvement of the optic nerves and spinal cord (optic-spinal MS) and inflammation of the spinal cord (transverse myelitis). A 2004 study published in Neurology reported optic-spinal MS occurs in 17 percent of African-Americans compared with 8 percent of Caucasians. And transverse myelitis affects 28 percent of African-Americans with MS compared with 18 percent of Caucasians.
Unlike subtler MS symptoms, mobility and vision issues
can spur a person to visit a doctor more quickly. And that may be why the study found that once they get medical attention for their symptoms, African-Americans tend to be diagnosed with MS faster than white people (one year after symptom onset for blacks compared with two years for whites).
Participate in MS genetics studies
Cary, NC, March 10
Detroit, MI, March 24
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Philadelphia, PA, April 14
Columbia, SC, September 22 (sign-up link pending)