Until recently, the medical community largely believed that multiple sclerosis (MS) was less common in Black Americans than in the white population. This misconception became something of a self-fulfilling prophecy as doctors often unintentionally misdiagnosed Black patients who had MS. These false beliefs led to low measured MS rates and widespread ineffective treatments for Black communities for too long.
We’re here to provide updated research from AdventHealth neurologist Ryan Mizell, MD, and social worker Lauren Haynes showing those outdated ideas to be incorrect — as well as harmful — to people who need quality, comprehensive care for their MS. Large-scale studies show that Black people develop MS as much or even more frequently than white people.
Symptoms of Undiagnosed MS
“In its earliest stages, MS typically presents as a headache and fatigue,” says Dr. Mizell. “It can easily be missed, and without an MRI and further testing, it’s nearly impossible to prove. Years of experience caring for MS patients at AdventHealth have helped us better understand and detect this condition.”
For populations who have a history of being overlooked as MS patients based on their race or ethnicity, receiving an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment may be even more difficult.
Lauren shares: “The experience of being Black and living with or suspecting MS has many complexities. I have seen and heard it firsthand and have experienced it personally. Research shows that the Black population is less likely to seek treatment, and if they do, they are less likely to be believed when they present symptoms. They are also underrepresented in research studies and less likely to be able to afford the medications they need even with a diagnosis.”
Current research indicates that Black people with MS might also have a more aggressive disease progression, greater disability and different symptoms than their white counterparts. Differences include more walking, balance and coordination problems, more cognitive and visual symptoms, more frequent relapses with poorer recovery, as well as earlier disability onset.
“It’s all the more crucial that our Black communities have access to accurate testing and diagnoses and that they get the exceptional treatment they need,” says Dr. Mizell.
Making Health Equity a Priority
Dr. Mizell advocates ethical and inclusive care for all populations and considers that people of diverse backgrounds may need just as diverse treatments depending on how their illness presents.
“Dr. Mizell’s approach to care includes ethical considerations out of respect for people with differing backgrounds,” Lauren explains. “As an institution, AdventHealth has worked tirelessly to ensure that we are a place where individuals feel seen and heard with the best care available to them no matter their background. As a social worker, my number one goal is that our patients feel valued and believed.
Dr. Mizell is passionate about making all medications available to anyone who meets the criteria for them. We’ve been working closely with organizations that can provide financial assistance for MS drugs for the uninsured or those who otherwise can’t afford their medications. We’re also working closely with the National MS Society to find solutions."
Comprehensive, Compassionate Care Across Cultures
All MS patients need consistent, quality care to get better. At AdventHealth, we provide world-class care to all people and treat every patient with dignity and respect. We honor all cultures, value all wishes and strive to meet all needs. We build trusting relationships between patients and providers and Extend the Healing Ministry of Christ to them and their families.
If you have MS or suspect you may have it, request an appointment with Dr. Mizell here for the care you need and deserve — for your body, mind and spirit.