Medically Reviewed by Carmelita Swiner, MD on May 10, 2022

What Is MS?

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Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is an autoimmune disease that affects your brain and spinal cord. Your immune system mistakenly attacks your nerves and the protective lining around them, which is called the myelin sheath. This causes problems sending messages from your brain to your body. 

MS Is a Chronic Condition

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There is no cure for MS yet. It's a lifelong condition. Depending on the type of MS you have, you might have periods with no symptoms, worsened symptoms, or slowly worsening symptoms. It’s important to know it’s not a fatal disease, but you will need to cope with it throughout your life. 

Black Women Are More Likely to Have MS

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Experts used to think MS affected mostly Caucasian women, but while it’s more common in women than men, MS can affect anyone. Recent research shows that among newly diagnosed people, African American women were more likely to have MS than Caucasian women. 

Low Vitamin D Might Cause Higher Risk for MS

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Experts think that low vitamin D levels might be a factor in getting MS. People with dark skin have lower vitamin D because melanin lowers your body’s ability to convert sunlight into vitamin D. This could be a reason African American women have a higher risk of MS. 

It’s Okay to Ask for Help

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In a survey, African American women with multiple sclerosis said support was one of the most important things for living with MS. Talk to others around you about your condition and ask for the help you need so they can support you. 

Movement Problems Are Common

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As your immune system breaks down your nerves, your brain has trouble sending messages to your muscles, which can cause movement problems. Those affected by MS experience more mobility, balance, and coordination problems. Using mobility aids like a walking stick or a wheelchair can help, though. 

Black Women Can Have a Lot of Relapses

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Research shows that African American people often have more severe MS that gets worse with time. Symptoms can vary depending on what nerves are affected, so multiple sclerosis is different for everyone. It’s also possible that you might have more relapses in the future.  

MS Affects Your Mental Skills

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Thinking and memory problems are also common symptoms of multiple sclerosis. You might have trouble remembering events, finding words, interpreting information, or focusing. You might also have slurred speech and trouble judging the space around you. These symptoms can vary every day, and you might experience times when they’re worse.

Rest Is Important

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Fatigue is common. Simple activities can drain your energy, and you might notice your symptoms are worse when you’re tired. It’s important to know your limits and to prioritize rest instead of pushing through.

Staying Cool Helps

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Heat makes MS symptoms temporarily worse for some people. Avoid exposure to heat and use cooling clothing with ice packs or cooling technology to lower your body temperature.

There Is Treatment

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There is no cure for MS, but aggressive treatment in the early stages can slow down lesions and lower your relapse rate. Physical therapy can also build strength and help with movement, while medications can also help with your symptoms. Talk to your doctor about the right treatment for you.  

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Photo Credits:

1. Pornpak Khunatorn / Getty Images

2. AndreyPopov / Getty Images

3. Yellow Dog Productions / Getty Images

4. Adam Hester / Getty Images

5. Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

6. SEBASTIAN KAULITZKI / Getty Images

7. The Good Brigade / Getty Images

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9. JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

10. Grace Cary / Getty Images

11. ljubaphoto / Getty Images

SOURCES:

National Health Service: “Overview — Multiple sclerosis.”

Neurology: “Incidence of multiple sclerosis in multiple racial and ethnic groups.”

International Journal of MS Care: “Experiences of African American Women with Multiple Sclerosis.”

Mayo Clinic: “Multiple sclerosis.”

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: “MS in the Black Community.”

National Health Service: “Treatment — Multiple sclerosis.”

Multiple Sclerosis Trust: “Thinking and memory problems.