Don't like to read?
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a long-lasting disease that affects everyone differently. No two patients have the same symptoms. It is an unpredictable chronic disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS) by disrupting the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body in about 400,000 individuals in the United States.
“Basically, my immune system is attacking my central nervous system. Every motion you have breathing, sleeping, nodding your head, reading all happens through electricity. Our nerves are covered with myelin, similar to rubber casing on a telephone wire. If you take that rubber off, the electricity doesn’t work anymore. In my case, I have 15 lesions [in my brain] that are eating away the myelin. It causes multiple problems,” explains 55-year-old Chicagoan Bill Gillespie, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999.
Historically the disease has affected more women than men between the ages of 20 and 50 and was thought to be more prominent in regions furthest from the equator. However, systemic reviews of case studies suggest that the female-to-male ratio has shifted in the last five decades, according to a paper published in the National Library of Medicine co-authored by doctors Alvaro Alonso and Miguel A. Hernán.
While cases are more commonly diagnosed in Caucasians of Northern European descent, minority populations in the United States, such as Black and Hispanic-Americans, see higher incidences of MS when compared to counterparts in their ancestral countries of origin.
Since these groups are frequently underrepresented in clinical trials, data from multiple sclerosis-specific studies could be incomplete. However, MS cases in Black and brown communities have increased, according to Nancy McInroy, President of the Greater Illinois Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Out of 496 newly diagnosed MS patients, the rate per 100,000 person-years was higher in Black Americans than in their Caucasian peers, 10.2 and 6.9 respectively. In contrast, Hispanic and Asian Americans were 2.9 and 1.4, according to a recent historical cohort study by researchers at PubMed. They also discovered that Black Americans had a 47% increased risk compared with Caucasians.
Several projects at the University of Illinois Chicago are focused on improving the lives of MS patients. Researchers are investigating how exercise and physical movement can help relieve physical symptoms in those living with multiple sclerosis.
Another study deals with learning methods to fall safely and avoid injury. These skills are vital for anyone suffering from balance issues such as an irregular gait, dizziness, and vision problems brought on by most MS-related symptoms, says McInroy.
Since multiple sclerosis is a nerve-based disease, the primary method of diagnosis is made using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). “The only way to see the lesions, [that] I have in my brain, is with an MRI,” Gillespie points out. However, it is much easier to get an MRI now than when Gillespie was first diagnosed due to cost and practicality since the technology was new and commercial MRI machines were not readily available.
Doctors will also order tests to rule out other immunodeficiency-related illnesses such as Lyme disease and HIV.
Some of the more common MS symptoms reported are fatigue, walking or gait difficulties, numbness or tingling, muscular spasticity, muscular weakness, a wide range of vision problems, vertigo or dizziness, bladder dysfunction, bowel issues, and clinically significant or chronic pain. In addition, cognitive deterioration and psychological factors also significantly affect MS patients.
While the majority of patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in Chicago are Caucasian, “we are starting to find more cases from the African American community. There’s a lot more, I think it’s due to their access to healthcare, [which] isn’t as great as it should be,” McInroy explained.
Awareness is important, especially since MS has been treated as a predominately-white disease. Gillespie spoke about a group formed in North Lawndale to let everyone know that they should talk to their doctor about symptoms. He and some of his close friends believe that talking about MS helps open eyes. “The North Lawndale health community identified 280 people in their health network that had some association with multiple sclerosis,” Gilespie added.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
Interview: Nancy McInroy and Bill Gillespie; Jan. 25, 2022
RSNA: The History of MR Imaging as Seen through the Pages of Radiology; by Robert R. Edelman
NCBI: Temporal trends in the incidence of multiple sclerosis; by Alvaro Alonso, MD and Miguel A. Hernán, MD
NCBI: Multiple sclerosis in US minority populations; by Omar Khan, MD, corresponding author Mitzi J. Williams, MD, Lilyana Amezcua, MD, Adil Javed, MD, Ph.D., Kristin E. Larsen, Ph.D., and Jennifer M. Smrtka, NP
National Multiple Sclerosis Society: MS Signs & Symptoms
Featured and Top Image by Hush Naidoo Jade Photography Courtesy of Unsplash – Creative Commons License
First Inset Image by National Cancer Institute Courtesy of Unsplash – Creative Commons License
Second Inset Image by Sabino Ocampo Alonso Courtesy of Unsplash – Creative Commons License