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Actress Christina Applegate has revealed she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a few months ago — a condition shared by nearly one million adults in the U.S., according to the National MS Society.
“It’s been a strange journey,” Applegate wrote. “But I have been so supported by people that I know who also have this condition. It’s been a tough road. But as we all know, the road keeps going.”
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.
Here’s what to know about MS and how we work to provide whole-person care for each patient’s body, mind and spirit.
What Causes Multiple Sclerosis?
Ryan Mizell, MD, a board-certified neurologist specializing in MS, treats the condition with a focus on whole-person health.
Maybe you noticed a tingling in your fingers one day. Or maybe you're experiencing long-term neurological symptoms. Dr. Mizell explains, “ Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. That means the immune system attacks its own healthy cells. It affects quality of life and can be disabling.”
In other words, many people diagnosed with MS experience a variety of symptoms that could impact their health, lifestyle and day-to-day activities. However, the specific cause is not known.
Scientists believe MS is triggered by a combination of factors, such as:
There are three basic disease courses of MS, depending on the frequency of episodes. Here is a breakdown of MS types:
Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS)
This is characterized by periods of relapses (new symptoms or a new worsening of older symptoms) that subside, with full or partial recovery, and no disease progression between relapses.
Primary Progressive MS (PPMS)
This is characterized by a gradual but steady progression of disability from the onset of symptoms, with few or no relapses or remissions.
Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS)
This follows relapsing-remitting MS in some people and is characterized by a more progressive course, with or without relapses or new MRI activity.
Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS)
This is the first episode of neurologic symptoms caused by inflammation and demyelination in the central nervous system.
Radiologically Isolated Syndrome (RIS)
This occurs when imaging is obtained for other reasons, such as headache, and the MRI appears similar to multiple sclerosis, though the patient has not experienced a clinical syndrome.
Who Gets Multiple Sclerosis?
Globally, more than 2.3 million people have been diagnosed with MS.
More than two to three times as many women develop MS compared to men.
While MS isn’t contagious or directly inherited, about 15% of people with MS have one or more family members who also have MS, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Where You Live
While a definitive cause isn’t known, epidemiologists have identified factors in the distribution of MS around the world that may eventually help determine what causes the disease. So, where someone lives may make them more at-risk.
For example, the further someone is from the equator, the higher the rates of MS tend to be, which points to colder climates with less access to sunlight. In the southern states of the U.S., there are between 57 and 78 cases per 100,000 people. This is compared to the northern states where there are 110 to 140 cases per 100,000 people, or about twice as many as the southern states. Some doctors believe that lower levels of vitamin D in colder climates may be connected to the development of MS.
Canada is the country with the highest prevalence of MS, while the United States is not ranked among the top 10 countries.
According to the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, other factors that may play a role in developing MS include certain infections — even dormant ones such as mononucleosis or Epstein Barr virus — as well as smoking and diets high in saturated fat.
MS Symptoms and Treatment
Symptoms of MS occur due to damage of the central nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Symptoms can be unpredictable and vary from person to person.
“The most common symptoms are weakness of an arm or leg, loss of sensation, pain with eye movement and vision changes typically in one eye or double vision,” explains Dr. Mizell.
Patients may also experience fatigue, poor coordination, imbalance, pain, depression and problems with memory and concentration. These symptoms can also occur in other diseases and don’t confirm an MS diagnosis. The most common symptoms are the following:
- Blurry vision
- Electric-shock sensations
- Numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, typically on one side of the body at a time
- Partial or complete loss of vision
- Problems with sexual, bowel and/or bladder function
- Prolonged double vision
- Tingling or pain in parts of your body
- Tremor, lack of coordination or unsteady gait
While MS can’t be cured, the pain and discomfort it causes can be treated. “There are now FDA-approved medications that have been shown to modify the course of MS by limiting new areas of damage in the central nervous system, reducing the number of relapses and delaying progression of disability,” Dr. Mizell adds.
Treatments for MS can include:
- Disease-modifying therapies
- Treatment of relapses
- Plasma exchange
- Symptomatic management
- Muscle spasm
- Neuropathic pain
Whole-Person Care for MS and Beyond
Exceptional care is about more than just treating the physical symptoms of MS. We also aim to ease your mind and lift your spirit, so you can approach this journey with hope, courage and strength. Make an appointment to see Dr. Mizell and begin your path towards healing.