Perceptions of Multiple Sclerosis in Hispanic Americans: Need for Targeted Messaging

Int J MS Care. 2017 May-Jun;19(3):131-139. doi: 10.7224/1537-2073.2015-081.


Background: Illness perceptions have been reported to be important determinants of multiple sclerosis (MS)-related well-being. Hispanic culture is defined by strong cultural beliefs in which illness is often perceived to arise from strong emotions. Understanding the perceptions of MS in Hispanic Americans may provide a better understanding of cultural barriers that may exist. The purpose of this study was to describe Hispanic American perceptions of MS.

Methods: We gathered information from semistructured interviews, focus groups, and participant responses from the University of Southern California Hispanic MS Registry. This information was then stratified into a matrix of environmental, biological, and sociocultural determinants. Differences were examined by place of birth, treatment preference, and ambulatory difficulty. Logistic regression was used to investigate the relationship between sociocultural perceptions, place of birth, and ambulation.

Results: Most participants were female (n = 64, 61%), US born (n = 64, 61%), and receiving treatment for MS. Participants cited environmental and sociocultural perceptions, with significant differences noted by place of birth. Sociocultural factors such as strong emotions were almost four times more commonly perceived in immigrants compared with US-born participants (adjusted odds ratio, 3.66; 95% confidence interval, 1.12-11.90; P = .03). Male, low-education, and low-income participants were also more likely to perceive MS to be a result of strong emotions, but these differences were not statistically significant.

Conclusions: Hispanic American perceptions of MS differ by place of birth, with reports of cultural idioms more common among immigrants, which could affect disease management. These findings may be useful in designing educational interventions to improve MS-related well-being in Hispanic populations.