(Reuters Health)For years doctors have assumed African Americans are less likely to develop multiple sclerosis (MS) than other races, but a new study suggests the opposite may be true.
Researchers found black women were more likely than white women to be diagnosed with MS, in which the protective coating around nerve fibers breaks down, slowing signals traveling between the brain and body. Among men, there was no difference.
Studies were conducted that analyzed three years' worth of medical records for the 3.5 million patients in the Kaiser Permanente health system. During that time, 496 were diagnosed with MS.
The researchers found that over an average year, 10 out of every 100,000 blacks developed the disease, compared to 7 white patients, 3 Hispanics and just over 1 Asian per 100,000.
More than two-thirds of all MS diagnoses were in women, and that gender gap was particularly strong among blacks.
The new study "very strongly implies that the rate has really gone up in blacks," said Dr. George Ebers, a neurologist who studies MS at John Radcliffe Hospital at theUniversity of Oxford in the UK but wasn't involved in the new research.
MS symptoms typically start with numbness and tingling from the waist down or weakness on one side of the body - such as after a stroke. Because of the notion that they're at lower risk, many black patients are initially misdiagnosed,” said Dr. Annette Langer-Gould, who led the new study at Kaiser Permanente Southern California in Los Angeles.