How Race May Predict The Risk Of MS

It's long been thought that multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that predominantly affects white people. For decades, researchers have believed that MS is rare in Black people, but a new study has refuted this belief, shedding light on how race affects your risk for MS.

Multiple sclerosis is a disease that interferes with communication between the brain and the rest of the body (via Mayo Clinic). When you have MS, your immune system attacks the central nervous system, affecting the nerves in the spinal column. The protective sheaths that surround the nerves, called myelin, become damaged, leading to communication problems with the brain. This can cause different symptoms for different people depending on which nerves are damaged and how badly they're affected. 

Common symptoms include movement problems, such as tremors and numbness in limbs, and vision problems, such as double vision or blurriness. Slurred speech, fatigue, and dizziness are also common, reports Mayo Clinic.

What does race have to do with it?

The belief that MS is rare in Black individuals may originate from a 1950s study of veterans that found that white men are more likely than Black men to receive services for MS through the Veterans Administration, concluding that MS doesn't affect Black people very often (via U.S. News & World Report). However, this problematic research didn't consider the fact that Black people faced barriers and disparities in access to medical care and thus were less likely to be accounted for.

Now, a new study published in the journal Neurology is refuting this long-held belief with data. In the study, the health records of more than 2.6 million adults in the Kaiser Permanente Southern California network were reviewed, including 3,863 patients with MS. Researchers found that rates of MS were similar in Black people and white people. Per 100,00 people, there were about 226 Black patients with MS and about 238 white patients. In Hispanic patients, there were roughly 70 people per 100,000, and in Asian patients, around just 23. 

Dr. Annette Langer-Gould, a neurologist and lead author of the study, said that understanding accurate MS rates in all races is important for ensuring that all people are adequately screened and treated, despite historical inaccuracies (via U.S. News & World Report).