Healthy Living

How and Why Does Multiple Sclerosis Appear Differently in African Americans?

Different symptoms

As researchers are beginning to reexamine the presence of multiple sclerosis in the African American community based on the recent findings that suggest the disease is equally prevalent in both Caucasian and African American communities, they are beginning to identify some key differences in how the disease presents itself. Specifically, medical professionals have found that multiple sclerosis is more likely to affect African American patients’ ability to walk or impact their vision in some capacity.

These differences in how symptoms present themselves can have huge ramifications for how the disease is diagnosed and then treated. With regard to walking, studies have found that multiple sclerosis may flare up more quickly and also progress more aggressively in African American patients. Because losing the ability to walk requires such a drastic lifestyle change for patients, it is a big factor when trying to determine whether a patient will become disabled and require assistance. Since the effects of MS on the nerves that control walking tend to be more aggressive in African American patients, they are more likely to experience disability at an earlier age than Caucasian patients.

Similarly, studies have also found that multiple sclerosis is more likely to affect the optic nerve in African Americans. Vision disturbances may present on a range of severity. Some multiple sclerosis patients may experience partial vision loss and only during flare-up periods, while others may experience total vision loss, and in cases of secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, symptoms can become permanent. Based on recent data, African American patients are more likely to experience interference with their vision, and because the disease tends to affect this population more aggressively, they are also more likely to experience these symptoms with greater severity.