Actress Christina Applegate revealed a recent multiple sclerosis diagnosis to fans on Monday, but what is the chronic disease and what are the warning signs?
According to Hopkins Medicine, MS “occurs when the immune system attacks nerve fibers and myelin sheathing (a fatty substance which surrounds/insulates healthy nerve fibers) in the brain and spinal cord. This attack causes inflammation, which destroys nerve cell processes and myelin – altering electrical messages in the brain.”
MS is a chronic autoimmune disease without a cure, and while the cause is unknown, it is believed to be a combination of environmental and genetic factors.
The disease is unpredictable and can manifest differently in each patient depending on the extent of nerve damage; while some see a mild course of disease, others can lose their ability to walk and speak. When patients are diagnosed, about 90% will have a so-called relapsing-remitting form of disease defined by symptoms like fatigue, numbness, tingling, blurred vision and weakness lasting for days or weeks before partially resolving.
“Patients may then remain symptom-free for weeks, months or even years (known as remission). Without treatment, most people with MS will develop disease symptoms that will gradually worsen over time (known as relapsing),” Hopkins Medicine explains on its webpage.
However, over 50% of patients with relapsing-remitting MS will see worsening symptoms (usually affecting walking and mobility) within 10 to 20 years, known as secondary-progressive MS, according to the Mayo Clinic. The speed of worsening symptoms can vary from patient to patient. Patients battling MS who experience a gradual onset and steady progression without relapses face so-called primary progressive course of disease.
Certain risk factors can raise the risk of developing the chronic disease, including a family history of MS, race, climate, low levels of vitamin D, and smoking. Women are over three times more likely to develop relapsing-remitting MS than men, and disease onset typically occurs around 20-40 years of age, though it can happen at any age.
MS patients may face other complications too, like depression, paralysis, bowel issues and epilepsy, the Mayo Clinic explains on its webpage.