Christina Applegate revealed on August 10 that she has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).
The 49-year-old actress wrote on Twitter that she received her diagnosis “months ago,” calling her experience thus far a “strange journey” and “a tough road.” She also touched on her experience with the MS community, saying she’s been “so supported by people that [she knows] who also have this condition.”
In a second tweet, Applegate asked for privacy as she deals with her condition. In describing her health journey, she quoted a friend of hers who also has MS: “We wake up and take the indicated action.”
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Applegate’s Diagnosis Brings Awareness to Multiple Sclerosis
Applegate’s going public about her diagnosis can have a positive impact on people with MS and similar health conditions, says Meghan L. Beier, PhD, a rehabilitation neuropsychologist and assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. Dr. Beier has expertise in adjustment to chronic illnesses like MS.
“First it brings awareness to the medical diagnosis,” she explains. “Even though MS is the most common neurologic illness after traumatic injury, it is still relatively unknown to the general public. Celebrities help bring awareness and understanding to the diagnosis.”
Beier adds that learning to manage MS from others who are also living with the diagnosis can be a very powerful tool, especially when it comes to managing symptoms like fatigue, cognitive challenges, and physical difficulties.
“If a celebrity is able to positively share their own challenges, and also share the tools they are using to manage the challenges, this can help the whole MS community,” Beier says.
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What Is Multiple Sclerosis?
MS is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin sheath — a layer of insulation surrounding some of the nerves in the body — in the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve.
This attack causes the myelin sheath to become inflamed, either damaging or destroying it. This results in areas of patchy scar tissue — typically called “lesions” — that interrupt electrical impulses between the brain and other areas in the body.
Dizziness, fatigue, muscle spasticity, numbness and tingling, vision problems, balance issues, pain, and bladder and bowel dysfunction are all common symptoms of MS.
The disease is typically diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 50 — Applegate’s diagnosis falls within the typical window of when individuals are most often diagnosed, Beier says.
Most people with MS are initially diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS, which can progress to secondary-progressive MS. A much smaller number are diagnosed with primary-progressive MS.
It’s not clear what type of MS Applegate has.
Although incurable, MS can be managed with disease-modifying medications to help slow disease progression and reduce the number of relapses, or periods when MS symptoms worsen.
Other treatments for MS include physical therapy and other rehabilitative therapies, a healthy lifestyle including a high-quality diet and exercise, and treating coexisting conditions like depression or anxiety.
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Applegate’s Prior Cancer Diagnosis Appears in Netflix Series
Applegate faced another significant health issue in 2008, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy, or surgery to remove both breasts.
Her experience with breast cancer makes an appearance in the Netflix series Dead to Me, in which Applegate stars. She plays the role of Jen Harding, who has a preventive double mastectomy after her mother dies of breast cancer.
Harding’s post-surgery struggles included body image issues — a struggle Applegate herself has faced, even more than a decade after her procedure.
In a May 2019 interview with USA Today, Applegate said, “I think about it every day. Girls who go through this, we say to each other, ‘Yep, it’s been 10 years,’ but you’re never not aware that that’s something you’ve been through. Everything looks different. You have to shower and you’re like, ‘Oh, there they are. That happened.'”
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