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This past Monday, Christina Applegate made a special appearance on the 2024 Emmy Awards stage. The Dead To Me actress was visibly emotional at the standing ovation that awaited her as she made her way to the stage with the help of a cane, yet she still managed to display her trademark humor, 

“You’re totally shaming me with disability by standing up, it’s fine, OK. Body not by Ozempic.”

While the standing ovation spoke to the legacy that the 52-year-old actress had built in Hollywood, it also touched on her resilience in the face of her Multiple Sclerosis (MS) diagnosis. It is a resilience that continues to shed light on a condition affecting 2.8 million people worldwide

What Is MS?

Per the Multiple Sclerosis Society, multiple sclerosis is a “disease that impacts the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves, which make up the central nervous system and controls everything we do.”

The exact cause of MS continues to be a mystery, yet researchers have identified triggers that influence the immune system to attack the central nervous system. These triggers can include stress, temperature changes, sleep problems, certain medications, and infections.

While the exact cause is still unknown, the Mayo Clinic lists MS risk factors as:

  • Age: Most MS cases typically occur between 20 and 40 years of age. 
  • Sex: Women face a 2-3 times higher risk of experiencing relapsing-remitting MS.
  • Race: White people face the highest risk, yet research has indicated that MS is more prevalent in Black people than previously thought.
  • Climate: MS is far more common in countries with temperate climates, like Canada, the northern United States, New Zealand, southeastern Australia, and Europe. 
  • Family history
  • Certain infections
  • Low vitamin D levels
  • Obesity
  • Certain autoimmune diseases
  • Smoking

Christina Applegate: MS Makes It Hard To Act

In August 2021, Christina Applegate took to Twitter to share her multiple sclerosis diagnosis, which she had received a few months beforehand.

 

Applegate’s MS diagnosis isn’t the first health challenge she’s had to overcome. In 2008, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and subsequently underwent a double mastectomy, as well as the removal of her ovarian and fallopian tubes in 2017 to reduce the risk of a recurrence.

That said, this health hurdle is unlike the others, as the actress revealed to Variety last year that MS made it hard to act, and she was unsure of how much longer she would be able to do so, 

“We don’t know what my future as an actress is going to be. “How can I handle it? How can I go onto a set and call the shots of what I need as far as my boundaries, physically?”

What are the symptoms of MS?

MS can be hard to spot and diagnose, with Applegate telling the New York Times in 2022 that the symptoms she was experiencing began a few years before she received a diagnosis. 

The Married With Children star shared that she felt unbalanced whilst filming a dance scene, and that she also noticed that her tennis skills weren’t quite as strong as they used to be. Applegate added that she later noticed numbness and tingling in her extremities.

The symptoms experienced by the actress are consistent with early signs of (MS), which also include may include dizziness, loss of vision, unilateral facial pain or numbness, vertigo, and new leg weakness.

“I wish I had paid attention,” said Applegate, “But who was I to know?”

That said, knowing sooner may not have ensured a diagnosis. Speaking to Healthline, Dr. Nora Lansen, a primary care doctor and virtual clinic director with Galileo Health in New York, explained that diagnosing MS can be difficult as the symptoms aren’t always specific to the condition.

For instance, Applegate’s symptoms included fatigue and poor balance, but these could have been attributed to other health conditions.

“Fatigue, anxiety, low mood, decreased focus, constipation — these are all symptoms that are frequently encountered by people who have MS,” Dr. Lansen said,They are also symptoms frequently encountered by people who do not have MS.”

So since there is no single test that can definitively diagnose MS, Dr. Lansen shares that doctors rely on signs and symptoms of the disease to guide diagnosis and treatment. As such, any new, scary symptoms must be discussed with a healthcare provider, especially if they don’t go away.

Living with MS

“There are just certain things that people take for granted in their lives that I took for granted. Going down the stairs, carrying things — you can’t do that anymore. It f—— sucks. I can still drive my car short distances. I can bring up food to my kid. Up, never down.” – Christina Applegate, Vanity Fair

Sadly, there is no cure for MS, but symptoms are manageable. For instance, Applegate has a friend who lives with her during the week, helping her and her daughter, and on weekends, she has a caretaker. For the actress, this is a great set-up as it keeps her from getting over-stimulated, 

“I also don’t want a lot of stimulation of the nervous system because it can be a little bit too much for me. I like to keep it as quiet and as mellow as possible,” she explained to Vanity Fair.

Want to know more?

If you’d like to read more about MS, Colleen Doherty, MD, a board-certified internist and Verywell medical writer based in Chicago, Illinois, wrote about her diagnosis and subsequent journey with MS

References

Hittle M, Culpepper WJ, Langer-Gould A, Marrie RA, Cutter GR, Kaye WE, Wagner L, Topol B, LaRocca NG, Nelson LM, Wallin MT. Population-Based Estimates for the Prevalence of Multiple Sclerosis in the United States by Race, Ethnicity, Age, Sex, and Geographic Region. JAMA Neurol. 2023 Jul 1;80(7):693-701. doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2023.1135. PMID: 37184850; PMCID: PMC10186207.

Walton, C., King, R., Rechtman, L., Kaye, W., Leray, E., Marrie, R. A., Robertson, N., Rocca, N. L., Uitdehaag, B., Wallin, M., Helme, A., Napier, C. A., Rijke, N., & Baneke, P. (2020). Rising prevalence of multiple sclerosis worldwide: Insights from the Atlas of MS, third edition. Multiple Sclerosis (Houndmills, Basingstoke, England), 26(14), 1816-1821. https://doi.org/10.1177/1352458520970841

MAIN IMAGE CREDIT:divaladyc21/instagram
Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba is a journalist graduate and writer, specializing in health, beauty, and wellness. She also has a passion for poetry, equality, and natural hair. Identifiable by either her large afro or colorful locks, Pie aspires to provide the latest information on how one can adopt a healthy lifestyle and leave a more equitable society behind.

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