A new study suggests that even when differences in socioeconomic
status are taken into consideration, Black people with multiple
sclerosis may be more negatively impacted by the disease than white
people with multiple sclerosis. The research is published in the June 30, 2021, online
issue of Neurology®. The study found that Black people with multiple sclerosis had
lower scores on certain measures of neurological health, like dexterity
and walking tests and showed more evidence of disease progression on
"While lower socioeconomic status appears to be linked to doing
worse on tests of neurologic performance in white people with multiple sclerosis, we do
not see that for Black people with multiple sclerosis, at least at the single time point
we examined," said study author Lana Zhovtis Ryerson MD, of NYU
Langone Health in New York City, and a member of the American Academy of
The study looked at 1,214 people who identified as Black and 7,530
people who identified as white. Researchers also took a more detailed
look at socioeconomic status based on neighborhood for 288 of the Black
people in the study and 1,046 of the white people.
Researchers also looked at common neurological tests for people with
multiple sclerosis. In a 50-question cognitive processing test, the Black people with
multiple sclerosis, on average, scored five points lower than white people with multiple sclerosis. For
physical tests like the 25-foot walking test, Black people with multiple sclerosis were
an average of 0.66 seconds slower. In a manual dexterity test, Black
people with multiple sclerosis were an average of 2.11 seconds slower.
When looking at brain lesions, which can indicate disease
progression, researchers found that Black people had, on average, larger
lesion volumes on their brain scans compared to white people.
Researchers then looked at the smaller group of people, using a more
detailed measure of socioeconomic status. For white people with multiple sclerosis,
lower household income was associated with slower cognitive processing
and walking speeds, while a worse score on the socioeconomic test was
associated with slower cognitive processing and manual dexterity speeds.
For Black people in the study, lower income was only associated with
less manual dexterity. Having worse socioeconomic scores was not
associated with differences in cognitive processing, walking or manual
"Future studies should consider the role of unmeasured factors like
systemic racism to see if they may play a role in greater disability
among Black people with multiple sclerosis," Zhovtis Ryerson said. "These results also
reinforce the need for more diverse clinical trials and research
focusing on treatment strategies specifically for Black people to
identify whether certain therapies or more aggressive early treatment
could help slow down disability over time."
A limitation of the study is that it was based on one point in time and may not reflect associations over time.
Source: News Release
American Academy of Neurology
June 30, 2021