• Fri. Mar 24th, 2023

Learn more about African Americans and MS at town hall

By Marsha D. Thomas, R.N.

Chair, Multiple Sclerosis

Community Council

Most people either know someone with multiple sclerosis or have heard of this disease before. People who have died from this disease include Richard Pryor, Annette Funicello and Marilyn Joan Wilson-Moore.  Montelle Williams is doing well with this disease, and Christina Applegate was recently diagnosed. 

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system.  It interrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and the body. The exact cause of MS is currently unknown, but it is associated with inflammation and degeneration within the central nervous system.  The current estimate of people with MS in the USA is greater than one million and African Americans make up 21% of that number.

Initial symptoms for African Americans usually involve eye problems.  This makes sense since eyes are part of the brain, but symptoms are like an iceberg.  What most people see are just a small sampling of various symptoms that accompany this disease.  Symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from person to person and from day to day.

Common symptoms for all MS patients include fatigue, difficulty with the eyes, numbness, difficulty walking or maintaining balance, changes in sexual function, vision problems, bowel and bladder changes, and problems with memory and thinking, just to name a few.

MS affects African Americans and Hispanics in different ways compared with other ethnic groups. Symptoms may differ, the disease may progress faster and treatments may have different effects. African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos are underrepresented in research studies. That makes it difficult to tell which treatments are best for them or how to reduce the risk of MS in these groups.

Science-based evidence reveals MS symptoms in African Americans can vary in range and severity:

  • more frequent relapses and poorer recovery
  • more walking problems
  • more balance and coordination problems
  • more problems with thinking
  • earlier disability onset
  • more visual symptoms

It is believed that African Americans have more disability because of:

  • later diagnosis
  • more aggressive disease and
  • lower levels of Vitamin D
  • the farther you are from the equator, the greater the risk 

The fastest growing group of new diagnosed cases is young African American females.

Want to learn more about this disease and assess you and/or your families’ risk?  Then make plans to join the Multiple Sclerosis Society and others as they present a MS town hall meeting on Saturday, October 23, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Summit Conference Center at New Prospect Baptist Church, 1580 Summit Road, Cincinnati, 45237. 

You will hear from a distinguished panel that includes an MS doctor and nurse-practitioner, physical therapist, newly diagnosed and long-time patients, caregivers and representatives for the makers of MS disease modifying drugs.  There will be a Q & A session and a light lunch to go will be available.

This town hall meeting is free and open to the public. CDC guidelines will be followed, so please wear a mask.

For more information and to register go to: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/10C0F4CABAC2EA1F9C61-nmss.

You may also go to MS Society.org or call the Ohio Chapter MS Society at 1-800-344-4867.