Multiple Sclerosis

Black Women at Increased Risk of Developing Multiple Sclerosis

Previous research found blacks less prone to the condition

A recent study finds black women are more likely to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) than white women and men. The research, from Kaiser Permanente Southern California, calls into the question previous studies that found blacks less prone to the condition than other ethnicities. Black men and white men have similar risk of an MS diagnosis.
“This is a disease that can affect anyone,” says Annette Langer-Gould, M.D., lead author of the study. “Our findings do not support the widely held belief that blacks have a lower risk of MS than whites, but that MS risk is determined by complex interactions between race, ethnicity, sex, environmental factors and genotypes. The diagnosis should not be dismissed based on the belief that this is a disease that does not affect blacks or Hispanics.”
For the study, researchers looked at more than 3.5 million patients enrolled in the Kaiser Permanente Southern California health plan from 2008 to 2010. Out of almost 500 newly diagnosed MS patients, more than 70 percent were women, and blacks were 47 percent more likely than whites to receive an MS diagnosis. African Americans made up 21 percent of the patients with MS, yet they represented only 10 percent of the total study population, putting them at a disproportionately higher risk of developing MS.
The study didn’t look at environmental or behavioral factors, which could have swayed results. Scientists believe a combination of genetics, environmental factors, societal behaviors—including lack of vitamin D and cigarette smoking—and occupation could trigger MS.
“Although additional research is needed, possible explanations for the higher incidence of MS in black women include a greater prevalence of hormonal, genetic, or environmental risk factors such as smoking, compared to patients from other racial or ethnic groups,” Langer-Gould says.
Multiple sclerosis, a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, affects more than 2.1 million people worldwide.

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