While multiple sclerosis (MS) can cause a wide swath of symptoms and challenges for anyone diagnosed with the autoimmune disease, a new study finds that race may play a role in disease severity. Researchers discovered that Black individuals with MS may be more severely affected by the disease, but also that this added impact persisted even when differences in income were considered. The same was not true for white individuals.
“It was not that I was surprised that [socioeconomic status] played a role with white people. I was surprised that it also didn’t show a clear-cut significance in Black people as well. I was expecting to find it on both,” Dr. Karla Gray-Roncal, a neurology resident for Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore says. “It wasn’t so significant in Black people, which points to other factors that are playing a role.”
The study used data on people with MS, including more than 1,200 Black patients and 7,530 white patients. The researchers also examined the socioeconomic status of 288 of the Black participants and 1,046 of the white participants.
Using common tests on MS disease severity, the Black participants were an average of .66 seconds slower than the white people on a 25-foot walking test. They were also 2.1 seconds slower in a manual dexterity test. In responding to a 50-question cognitive processing test, Black participants with MS scored 5 points lower than white people with MS.
Back people with MS also had larger brain lesions, which can signal disease progression.
In considering socioeconomic status, researchers found that for white MS patients, a lower household income was associated with slower cognitive processing and walking speeds. And a worse score on the socioeconomic test was associated with slower cognitive processing and manual dexterity speeds.
The wasn’t the case for Black MS patients in this study, whose lower income was associated only with less manual dexterity.
The study didn’t consider other reasons that might cause poorer outcomes in Black patients with MS, but structural discrimination could be