Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic neurological disease that usually affects young adults of various races/ethnicities, including Latinos.
However, compared to white people, there is less understanding of how the disease impacts the Latino community.
Let’s explore more about MS, why less is known about MS in Latinos, and how Latinos can gain equal access to MS care.
What Causes MS?
Normally, our body’s immune system protects us from getting sick.
But sometimes, our immune system can mistakenly attack parts of our own body.
In MS, the immune system attacks myelin, a substance that coats nerve fibers, according to the National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke.
Myelin can be found in our body’s central nervous system, which includes the brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord. Therefore, MS commonly affects these areas of the body, causing an array of symptoms.
What Are Signs and Symptoms of MS?
MS affects everyone differently, which is makes it difficult to predict the potential advancement of the disease, according to the National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke.
Signs and symptoms of MS generally occur between ages 20 and 40 over the course of a few days or gradually over years.
There are several types of MS with varying symptoms.
Common symptoms include vision problems; muscle weakness in the hands and legs; tingling, numbness, or pain in the arms, legs, trunk, or face; difficulty staying balanced when walking; bladder control problems; and dizziness.
Over time, these symptoms may become severe enough to affect walking or standing. Unfortunately, MS can lead to partial or complete paralysis in untreated individuals or those with advanced disease.
However, MS is rarely fatal and most people with MS have a normal life expectancy.
How Does MS Affect Latinos?
US Latinos with MS remain an understudied population, so there is generally less understanding of the development of MS in US Latinos.
However, studies suggest that Latinos are significantly less likely to develop MS compared to white populations in the US.
That being said, US Latinos have a higher prevalence of MS compared to Latinos in Latin America, which suggests the development of MS may be impacted by several factors, such as comorbidities, genetics, and the environment.
Additionally, research suggests that there may also be a higher MS severity in US Latinos, particularly in male individuals, according to a Practical Neurology article by Drs. Mirla Avila and Smathorn Thakolwiboon.
Increased MS severity may be caused by common barriers to healthcare in the Latino community, including cost of health insurance, language barriers, lack of reliable transportation, and discrimination and physician implicit bias.
Additionally, everyone’s health is influenced by a variety of non-medical factors, such as the conditions in which we are born, grow, live, work, and age. These conditions are known as social determinants of health (SDoH) and account for between 80 to 90% of health outcomes, according to the National Academy of Medicine.
Unfortunately, many Latinos face a variety of social, environmental, and economic inequities in their neighborhoods and communities that negatively impact health and may make Latinos more susceptible to developing a variety of diseases, including MS.
These inequities include low wages and limited employee benefits; underperforming schools; lack of medical providers; unstable and unaffordable housing; low access to nutritious food; unreliable transportation options; and unsafe streets and parks.
“We’ve come so far since my dad was diagnosed. There were no treatments available for him at all, so it was just a matter of dealing with the escalation of his symptoms and continued loss of all his faculties and his abilities until the inevitable happened 14 years after he was diagnosed,” Estefan wrote. “There’s only hope on the horizon, and we’re coming together to make things better. Every single voice matters. And we are more powerful when we raise our voices together.”
Why Don’t We Know More About MS in Latinos?
As mentioned, Latinos face significant barriers to healthcare and face similar barriers to participating in clinical trials, which are studies with volunteers that help researchers learn how to slow, manage, and treat different diseases, including MS.
Latinos are massively underrepresented in clinical trials, making it harder for researchers to better understand MS development and progression in Latinos and identify potential treatments.
“Greater participation in research would offer a clearer picture of the impact of MS on Hispanics/Latinx,” according to the National MS Society. “Investigators want to find out about social, cultural and genetic factors that may play a role in the disease. This will allow us to make changes that improve our health outcomes.”
Equitable MS Care for Latinos
You can help researchers learn more about MS and develop tailored treatments for Latinos by raising awareness of or participating in a clinical trial.
“Latinos in clinical trials are not only helping themselves, but they are also building a future with better treatments that can help their families and communities in the future,” said Dr. Ramirez, leader of Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio.
You can find a clinical trial that best fits you or someone in your family by searching for open clinical trials on the Salud America! clinical trials page.
You can also learn more about clinical trials on our website.
Visit Everyday Health for a list of MS resources, including doctor and treatment facilities and financial assistance for drugs and supplies.