By Portia A. Scott (www.atlantadailyworld.com)
Multiple Sclerosis, an immune disease, affects more than 400,000 people in the U.S. and is thought to affect more than 2.1 million people worldwide. And with MS Awareness Week, March 12-18, the National MS Society is launching a national campaign in the African-American community on what exactly is MS, what are the symptoms and who is impacted by the disease.
Dr. Mitzi Joi Williams, who is a MS specialist in the Atlanta area and a partner with the MS Center of Atlanta (off of Howell Mill Road) in northwest Atlanta, is convinced health professors are making “great strides” to eradicate the debilitating disease that consumes some 8,000 to 9,000 right here in Georgia.
“I know support groups, education awareness can help, and offering programs that help to empower people can slow down the progression of this disease,” she said, adding that a follow-up with a neurologist or MS specialist can help. “Today, there are more options out there,” she adds, but a lot of people are misdiagnosed. Williams also believes “fear” is a culprit that a lot of people have that causes “our biggest hindrance.” She wants the disease to be more reported so treatment can start early. MS is not reported like AIDS and yet it affects some 30 to 40 percent African-Americans.
It is two times more common in women than in men and affects African Americans and Whites differently. Studies further show that in African Americans, MS can be more aggressive and more likely to be diagnosed later, African Americans often develop severe disabilities and experience more relapses.
In getting the word out, it is a challenge for us all, she explained.
Williams, a graduate of the Morehouse School of Medicine, was head of the MS Center of Augusta, Ga., before coming to Atlanta. She did her concentration at the Medical College of Georgia, now the Ga. Health Sciences University in Augusta.
Williams now wants her patients in Atlanta to not fear getting tested here.
A native of Chicago, she grew up in Atlanta and seeks out teleconference calls and websites to get the word out. She also believes support groups, which are free through the MS Society’s website. She doesn’t hesitate to tell her patients to call the 1-800 Fight MS or 1-800-344-4867, or visit www.nationalmssociety.org.
Although diet doesn’t cause the disease, Williams believes that a good diet and exercise program can help. She identifies “myelin” as the nerve cell disease that causes MS, and says prior to 1983 there were only eight medications that could treat the disease.
“Now there are much more and medications to help,” she said. There are self-help groups and wellness scholarships that can help, as well as programs that help to empower patients.
“We can slow it down, but we know it doesn’t make it go away,” said Williams, who believes a vitally important message is reaching out to millions of African Americans with MS.
Recognizing symptoms, early diagnosis and proactive treatment of MS can provide “great long-term benefits to those who live with MS every day,” she concluded.
Williams can be reached at the MS Center of Atlanta, 3200 Downwood Circle, off of Howell Mill Road, or call 404-351-0205, ext. 183.