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Overview

Historically MS was thought to primarily affect Caucasians, particularly those of Northern European descent, but more is being learned about other racial and ethnic populations. Studies of military personnel and subscribers of Southern California Kaiser Permanente healthcare system both indicate a higher incidence (the number of people NEWLY diagnosed with MS within a given period of time) of MS in African Americans than previously thought. More research needs to be done to understand if this is also true for individuals outside of those two groups studied, and what is the cause of this rise in cases.

Different symptoms

There’s some evidence that MS can manifest differently and be especially active in African-Americans:
  • more frequent relapses and poorer recovery
  • more visual symptoms
  • more walking problems
  • more balance and coordination problems
  • more problems with thinking
  • earlier disability onset

Vision issues (video)

Optic Neuritis

People living with multiple sclerosis share their experiences with optic neuritis, and neuro-opthalmologist Tariq Bhatti, MD from Duke University Medicine discusses management and treatment options.

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Participate in medical research

Research on who gets MS, prognosis, and which treatments are most effective are critical to disease management.  Medical research on MS has historically not included people of ethnic and racial minorities.  To best inform African Americans with MS about their disease, it is essential that they participate in research.  Otherwise, recommendations are based off conclusions from studies of other ethnic groups and races. 

Learn more about how you could be Making a Difference in MS Through Research in this article from the MS Minority Research Engagement Partnership Network. 

Different populations are being studied to learn why some ethnic groups develop MS at higher rates than others. The MS Genetics Group is asking for the donation of a blood samples from African-American individuals with MS and controls without MS. It is not required, but the participation of certain family members is preferred as well.

Additional video resources

Living with MS: African American Perspectives

MS and African Americans: Reasons for Hope

MS and African Americans: Diagnosis and Clinical Courses

Additional resources

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