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How MS affects Black people

By Lauren Lawler, PharmD, CSP
Manager of Specialty Clinical Programs, Patient Services
Optum Specialty Pharmacy

October 20, 2023 | 2-minute read


Victoria Reese was inspired to create a community for black people living with multiple sclerosis (MS). Here are some of the topics she addresses.

How common is MS in Black people?

226 out of every 100,000 Black people are living with multiple sclerosis.1 Black women are 3 times more likely than Black men to get MS.2

What are symptoms like?

Symptoms are different for each person and may change over time. MS symptoms in Black people may get worse fast and cause:3

  • Problems with walking, balance and coordination
  • Symptoms related to mental processing and vision
  • Frequent flare-ups with poorer recovery
  • Early onset of disability

Are there recommended treatments for a black person with MS?

There is no cure. For all people living with MS, care is aimed at keeping symptoms from acting up, managing symptoms and maintaining quality of life.4

There are 3 recommended approaches when it comes to MS medication regimens:5

  • Modifying the disease course – Disease-modifying therapy (DMT) is used to reduce the number of relapses, delay the progress of disability and limit new disease activity. This therapy can be injected, taken by mouth or infused. Starting DMT as soon as possible after diagnosis is important.
  • Managing relapses – Short-term therapies treat the inflammation that is causing the relapse.
  • Managing symptoms – Medications help with things like bladder problems, bowel problems, mood changes, feeling tired, pain, spasms and trouble walking.

Disparities in health care among Black people

As Victoria became a leader in helping those with MS, she realized there was a profound void in MS coverage, awareness and community for Black women and women of color. Understanding health equity is an important part of helping to create needed change.

What is health equity?

Health equity is the state in which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health.6 Health equity is achieved when there are no barriers such as race or ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical abilities or where someone lives.

What is structural racism?

There are lots of patterns and practices in the “structures” of communities that create racial discrimination and health inequities. Health inequities include housing policies, school systems, job practices and benefits, health care and criminal justice.7


  1. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. How Multiple Sclerosis Affects the Black Community. Accessed Feb. 2, 2023.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Treating MS. Accessed Feb. 3, 2023.
  5. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Medications. Accessed Feb. 3, 2023.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Advancing Health Equity in Chronic Disease Prevention and Management. Accessed Feb. 23, 2023.
  7. Bailey ZD, Krieger N, Agenor M, et al. Lancet. Structural racism and health inequities in the USA: evidence and interventions. 2017; 389 (10077):1453-1463.