Black Women Are More at Risk for Multiple Sclerosis

This debilitating disease is more common in our community than we once thought. 

Posted: 05/09/2013 02:00 PM EDT

It’s often believed that whites are more prone to developing multiple sclerosis (MS) — a debilitating disease that eats away at one’s nerves — than African-Americans. But a recent study flips that belief entirely on its head.

Researchers from Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation found that African-American women were more likely to develop the disease compared to both white men and women.

According to Red Orbit, other study findings included:

— Black women are three times as likely to develop MS than Black men.

— Overall, Blacks have a 47 percent higher risk of developing MS than whites.

— But other races and ethnicities had a lower risk of the disease. Latinos were 50 percent less likely and Asians were 80 percent less likely to develop MS than whites.

— There was no racial disparity between Black men and white men. Both developed MS at similar rates.

— African-Americans made up 21 percent of study participants with MS, while they only represented 10 percent of the total study population.

— Whites comprised 52 percent of those diagnosed with MS and represented 38 percent of the study population.

While race, gender, genetics and environmental factors may play a factor in why this racial disparity exists, no one really knows for sure.

Lead researcher Dr. Annette Langer-Gould suggests that vitamin-D deficiency among Blacks may play a part due to our darker skin. But as Langer-Gould points out, that wouldn’t explain why Asians and Latinos have lower risks that whites.

So why were we told for so long that MS wasn’t really our problem?

Simple: We really weren’t included in past research. The older most quoted data that downplayed our risk analyzed disability checks written for veterans of the Korean War from the '50s. So it’s pretty obvious to see why so many Black people, especially women, may have been overlooked.

MS is a very serious disease that attacks the protective layers of one’s nerves and permanently damages them. Those with severe cases of MS may lose the ability to walk and talk. There is no cure for MS, but treatment and medications can help.

Learn more about MS at NationalMSSociety.Org

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