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Race Matters in MS Progression Among Women
  • Posted January 24, 2024

Race Matters in MS Progression Among Women

Young Black and Hispanic women diagnosed with multiple sclerosis are more likely to fare worse than young white women do, a new study shows.

Specifically, they are more likely to have advanced MS and to face greater challenges during pregnancy, according to findings published Jan. 23 in the journal Neurology.

"We found that Black and Hispanic women faced socioeconomic disadvantages that were likely to have an adverse effect on their health,"said senior study author Dr. Riley Bove, of the University of California, San Francisco's Department of Neurology.

For the study, researchers tracked 294 women at nine MS centers throughout the country whose pregnancies resulted in live births. About half of patients were white, just over a quarter were Black and the rest were Hispanic.

Nearly 95% of the women had relapsing-onset MS, the most common type, in which flare-ups alternate with periods of recovery.

MS occurs when the immune system attacks myelin, the protective sheath covering nerve fibers. MS symptoms include bowel and bladder problems, pain and difficulties with vision and walking.

Black and Hispanic women tended to have more MS symptoms, with an average Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) ranking of 1.5, compared to an average ranking of 1 for white women.

Each point on the scale represents one functional system affected by MS, such as vision, bowel and bladder control, or balance and coordination.

Minority women also had higher levels of inflammation, indicating they were more susceptible to myelin loss and nerve damage, the researchers said.

Disparities observed during pregnancy included:

  • Minority women were slightly less likely to receive a 14-week ultrasound

  • Black women were more than twice as likely to undergo an emergency C-section as Hispanic women

  • Minority women were more likely to give birth to lower-birthweight babies

Black, Hispanic and white women all had similar rates of breastfeeding, which is protective against MS relapse. But white mothers breastfed for 6 months on average, compared with 4.5 months for minority moms.

"What we are seeing is that underrepresented women with MS start their pregnancies with higher disability and fewer health care resources,"Bove said in a university news release. "Our findings highlight the importance of considering race-ethnicity and disability in women with MS."

More information

Johns Hopkins Medicine has more on multiple sclerosis and pregnancy.

SOURCE: University of California, San Francisco, news release, Jan. 23, 2024

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