Multiple sclerosis: severity and progression rate in African Americans compared with whites

Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2003 Aug;82(8):582-90. doi: 10.1097/01.PHM.0000078199.99484.E2.


Objective: Although epidemiology indicates that multiple sclerosis is more common among whites than African Americans, the course of disease may be more aggressive among African Americans. This study examines disease course in a large multiple sclerosis clinic population.

Design: A case-controlled, retrospective record review compared the severity of multiple sclerosis for African Americans and for whites. Because the baseline demographics of the two groups differed, we performed analyses of multiple subgroups in an attempt to control for various characteristics.

Results: Consistent evidence of more disability in African Americans compared with whites was found, although subgroups were often too small to establish statistical significance. African Americans had a higher mean Expanded Disability Status Scale score than whites in a subgroup selected to minimize differences in access to care and disease perceptions. African Americans reported limb weakness as a presenting symptom of multiple sclerosis more frequently than did whites. When patients were followed at our multiple sclerosis center, rates of disease progression were nearly identical.

Conclusions: More African Americans than whites experience pyramidal system involvement early in multiple sclerosis, leading to greater disability as measured by the ambulation-sensitive Expanded Disability Status Scale. Once patients have moderate difficulty walking, the rate of progression is the same for both groups, albeit occurring at a later age for whites than for African Americans.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blacks*
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / classification*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / epidemiology
  • Multiple Sclerosis / mortality
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Population Surveillance*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Whites*