Overturning Assumptions: Multiple Sclerosis More Prevalent in Black Americans Than Previously Thought

Multiple Sclerosis Prevalence in Black Americans

The prevalence of MS is higher in Black Americans than previously thought; which points to the need for more equitable access to treatments and prevention. University of Maryland School of Medicine

Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine also discovered that the disease is more widespread in the northern regions of the United States.

Traditionally, multiple sclerosis has been seen as a disease primarily impacting individuals of European descent, particularly those of white ethnicity. However, recent research led by a team from the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) in North America proposes a contrary perspective.

According to their analysis, this severe neurological disorder is actually more common among Black Americans than previously believed. Additionally, the study indicates a significantly higher prevalence of the disease in Northern areas of the United States, such as New England, the Dakotas, and the Pacific Northwest.

Findings from the new study were recently published in the journal JAMA Neurology.

“We found a much higher prevalence of multiple sclerosis in Black Americans than previously thought,” said study corresponding author Mitchell Wallin, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Neurology at UMSOM. “This helps to confirm the profound impact that healthcare inequities and lack of representation in clinical research have had in terms of driving misconceptions about the prevalence of this disease on historically underserved and underrepresented populations.”

Multiple sclerosis (MS) causes the immune system to attack the central nervous system, specifically the protective layer of myelin that insulates nerve fibers. Symptoms include numbness, tingling, mood changes, memory problems, pain, fatigue, and, in severe cases, blindness or paralysis. In 2019, Dr. Wallin led a team that found the prevalence of multiple sclerosis (MS) in the U.S. to be nearly 1 million people, twice as many as previous estimates.

In the current study, he and his colleagues evaluated three years’ worth of de-identified health insurance claims of 96 million adults to locate adults living with multiple sclerosis. They estimated in more detail how many individuals who are age 18 or older are living with MS in various states and the MS prevalence among people of different races or ethnicities living in specific regions.

The study found strong evidence of a higher prevalence of MS in northern regions of the U.S. compared to southern regions. “Although we don’t know for certain why this is the case, it may have something to do with the spread of viruses in colder climates where people remain indoors more or lower vitamin D levels from less sun exposure,” said Dr. Wallin.

Numerous observational studies have linked low vitamin D levels with an increased risk of MS and with more progressive disease. Other landmark research published in Science found that the common Epstein-Barr virus infection greatly increased the risk for developing MS with a new study out this week demonstrating that antibodies made by the body against the virus attack a vital protein in the brain and spinal cord.

In terms of prevalence of MS within certain sub-groups of Americans, the researchers found a higher prevalence of MS in white people, followed by Black people, “other races,” and then people with Hispanic/Latinx ethnicity. MS occurs in about 4 in 1,000 white people, about 3 in 1,000 Black people, about 2 in 1,000 people of “other races” including Asians, Native Americans, Alaska natives, and multi-race individuals, and about 1.5 in 1,000 people of Hispanic/Latinx origin.

“The findings could have a significant impact on public policymakers to help them determine a more equitable allocation of resources towards populations that have been historically under-represented in MS research, and under-recognized when targeting prevention methods and treatment options,” said UMSOM Dean Mark T. Gladwin, MD, Vice President for Medical Affairs, University of Maryland, Baltimore, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor. “Considering the very diverse patients that we care for across Maryland and in Baltimore, we also have a unique opportunity through the new UM Institute for Health Computing to bring new advances in MS treatment to African American patients who are eligible for the many new biological therapies available.”

Reference: “Population-Based Estimates for the Prevalence of Multiple Sclerosis in the United States by Race, Ethnicity, Age, Sex, and Geographic Region” by Michael Hittle, William J. Culpepper, Annette Langer-Gould, Ruth Ann Marrie, Gary R. Cutter, Wendy E. Kaye, Laurie Wagner, Barbara Topol, Nicholas G. LaRocca, Lorene M. Nelson and Mitchell T. Wallin, 15 May 2023, JAMA Neurology.
DOI: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2023.1135

The study was funded by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

2 Comments on "Overturning Assumptions: Multiple Sclerosis More Prevalent in Black Americans Than Previously Thought"

  1. stephen schaffer | July 26, 2023 at 9:15 am | Reply

    Other than getting to use all the wokie buzzwords this piece is of questionable value. The data base of insurance claims was analyzed to make this breakthrough? How does that square with the scolding and indictment of American health care vis a vis bIack Americans? The researchers didn’t go door to door testing people who had not been cared for by the medical care system – they had been diagnosed and covered by insurance!

  2. Terrica Wisner | July 31, 2023 at 7:34 am | Reply

    i was researching about autoimmune diseases(Multiple Sclerosis to be specific) and current health tech to help curb/manage it and i found this website ww w. naturalherbscentre. com It made a tremendous difference for me I had improved walking balance, muscle strength and improved vision, always thankful for nature that helps in managing these terrible diseases. I’m active now, I can personally vouch for these remedy but you would probably need to decide what works best for you🧡.

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