Growing up, I was always very extroverted, bubbly, and outgoing. Raised by strong black
Queens and slay any obstacle placed before me—until the results came back stating that my new normal now involved conquering the debilitating beast known as Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
What is MS? I asked the doctor the same exact question once I returned to my senses after
hearing those dreaded two words. MS can be very unpredictable and is caused by
inflammation and damage to the myelin sheath covering the neurons of the central nervous
system (CNS). So, in short… your immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord, destroying
the protective covering of the nerves. Sounds painful, right? It is. And sadly, there is still
currently no cure for the disease.
Following my diagnosis 3 years ago, I knew I had to advocate for black women living with MS. I quickly learned how it has historically been under-studied in the African American population. Lending to the importance of knowing your body and advocating for yourself at all times.
Firstly, it is disheartening to know that such a life-altering disease is still so taboo in today’s modern world of technology. Researchers are still unsure of what causes the initial immune attack or as to why black women experience a greater degree of disability and relapse rates. As if we didn’t have enough dragons to slay already, right? It is thought that it could be influenced by factors such as our genetics and even the environment.
In most cases, patients are usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50 and more often
than not in women. Of these women, black women are usually diagnosed later in life (around
age 28- 40). Some of the most common signs and symptoms to look for include:
1. Numbness (especially in the extremities), difficulty walking: This was actually one of the
first symptoms that I experienced. My left arm was heavy, almost felt as if it was not my own.
Shortly after the symptoms began in my arms, I started experiencing it in my legs as well. Then the numbness turned to weakness, tingling…. And pain. Symptoms that I deal with on a daily basis (as do most patients with MS).
2. Vision changes: African-Americans are also more likely to develop damage to the nerves in
the optic region and the spinal cord. If you experience sudden changes or loss of vision, it is
very important that you contact your primary care provider immediately. If diagnosed with MS
or suspected to have MS, you should also schedule routine eye exams to track any changes that may occur in your vision.
3. Memory problems, difficulty thinking, depression: This is usually caused by inflammation
and the formation of sclerotic lesions on the brain.
What to do now? Learn your triggers… what causes your muscles pain… which movements feel best… what temperatures your body is most comfortable with. Medical treatment varies person-to-person based on how severe the disease is and where the lesions are. But one thing that is paramount to my recovery—self-care. I do the following for self-care:
Mindful medication to decrease stress and prevent flare-ups.
Yoga to stretch my muscles and help with anxiety.
Talking with my therapist concerning any feelings of depression.
Everyone will respond to multiple sclerosis differently. Though daunting in nature, it is
definitely a dragon that can be slayed. Know your body, advocate for yourself, and maintain
positive vibes at all times.
Dr. Amber Dietrich