Christina Applegate’s MS: Here’s Why Early Symptoms Are Often Missed

Actress Christina Applegate apparently ignored early symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) before being diagnosed last summer while on set for the third and final season of “Dead To Me,” which will debut on Netflix in November. 17.

“I was diagnosed while we were working,” the Emmy winner recently told Variety during an interview.

“I had to call everybody and say, ‘I’ve got multiple sclerosis, guys.’

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She added: “And then it was kind of learning – we all learned – what I was going to be able to do.”

The 50-year-old rose to fame as the goofy daughter on the TV sitcom “Married… With Children,” but has continued to show her acting versatility with shows like “Friends” or popular movies like “Anchorman.”

Christina Applegate attends Netflix "Dead To Me" season 1 premiere at The Broad Stage on May 2, 2019 in Santa Monica, California.

Christina Applegate attends the season 1 premiere of Netflix’s ‘Dead To Me’ at The Broad Stage on May 2, 2019 in Santa Monica, California.
(Presley Ann/Getty Images)

For her work, she is being honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on November 11. 14.

She is talking about her first signs and symptoms of MS.

What is MS?

Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disease of the brain and spinal cord, which together make up the central nervous system that controls everything we do, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

While it’s not clear what causes the disease, something triggers the immune system to attack the nervous system, the group also says.

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That attack on the nervous system causes damage to the protective outer covering of nerve fibers, known as myelin, as well as to the nerve fibers themselves.

This image provided by the US Department of Health and Human Services shows an illustration of the outer coat of the Epstein-Barr virus, one of the most common viruses in the world.  New research has shown stronger evidence that Epstein-Barr infection could put some people on the path to later developing multiple sclerosis.

This image provided by the US Department of Health and Human Services shows an illustration of the outer coat of the Epstein-Barr virus, one of the most common viruses in the world. New research has shown stronger evidence that Epstein-Barr infection could put some people on the path to later developing multiple sclerosis.
(US Department of Health and Human Services via AP)

Nerves send electrical signals that help us feel sensations and move muscles in the body.

MS interrupts the transmission of these nerve signals between the brain, spinal cord and the rest of the body, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Each MS patient’s experience is different.

“This disruption of communication signals causes unpredictable symptoms such as numbness, tingling, mood swings, memory problems, pain, fatigue, blindness and/or paralysis,” the society says on its website.

However, each MS patient’s experience is different.

Signs and symptoms

“Multiple sclerosis should be suspected when a younger person develops neurological symptoms,” said Dr. Jai S. Perumal, assistant professor of neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.

He relates it to “the way a stroke is suspected when an older person” develops neurological symptoms.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, most people with MS first experience symptoms when they are young adults, usually between the ages of 20 and 40.

Most MS patients, in addition to experiencing problems with their vision, also experience muscle weakness in their arms or legs and difficulty with balance that can become so severe that they have trouble walking or standing.

Most MS patients, in addition to experiencing problems with their vision, also experience muscle weakness in their arms or legs and difficulty with balance that can become so severe that they have trouble walking or standing.
(iStock)

A common early symptom includes difficulty with vision, such as blurred vision or even blindness in one eye, the same source added.

Most patients also experience muscle weakness in their arms or legs and balance difficulties that can become so severe that they have trouble walking or standing.

“MS can present with isolated vision loss, numbness and tingling in the face [and] double vision, which usually lasts for days rather than hours or minutes,” said Dr. Michael G. Ho, clinical assistant professor of neurology at UCLA in California.

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Applegate said she was “sleeping all the time” after her diagnosis and was using a wheelchair to get around on set because it was difficult to walk, according to Variety.

The symptoms are subtle, often overlooked

But these symptoms are nonspecific and subtle, so patients may initially dismiss them.

“About half of all people with MS experience cognitive impairments such as difficulties with concentration, attention, memory, and impaired judgment, but such symptoms are often mild and often overlooked,” according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website .

“Sometimes when symptoms are mild and people make a full recovery, they may decide not to see a doctor.”

Applegate recalls having balance problems while filming a dance sequence in the first season of “Dead To Me” before he was officially diagnosed, according to The New York Times.

“I wish I had paid attention,” he told the publication. “But who was I to know him?”

Later, she noticed that her tennis game began to suffer, but did not link it to a medical problem, the same report said.

Christina Applegate attends the 25th Annual Critics' Choice Awards at the Barker Hangar on January 10, 2019. 12, 2020, in Santa Monica, California.

Christina Applegate attends the 25th Annual Critics’ Choice Awards at the Barker Hangar on January 10, 2019. 12, 2020, in Santa Monica, California.
(Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

But Applegate’s experience may be common for other MS patients.

“Sometimes when symptoms are mild and people make a full recovery, they may decide not to see a doctor because they attribute it to any number of causes, including ‘pinched nerve,’ stress, etc.,” Perumal told Fox News Digital.

However, some cases can lead to partial or complete paralysis, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke said on its website.

Most patients experience temporary sensations of numbness, tingling, or “pins and needles.”

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Applegate told the Times that she started having numbness and tingling in her extremities that worsened over several years before she was finally diagnosed last year.

Other characteristic symptoms include pain, difficulty speaking, tremors or dizziness.

A diagnosis of MS

“The diagnosis of MS is made based on MRI findings,” added Perumal. “A spinal tap is only necessary if the MRI is inconclusive.”

A patient with multiple sclerosis may only have symptoms temporarily, and then those symptoms go away partially or completely over time. But then they can “relapse”.

“An MS exacerbation (also known as a relapse, attack, or flare) is the onset of new symptoms or the worsening of old symptoms,” according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

“Current treatments work best when used early in the course of the disease.”

The relapse must last at least 24 hours and occur at least 30 days after the previous attack, with other causes – such as infection – being ruled out, the organization added.

“An MS relapse is any neurological symptom, such as numbness, weakness, vision problems or gait impairment, among others, that appears and lasts for a few days or weeks” and then gradually disappears, Perumal said.

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“An MS patient may have a normal exam between relapses.”

Current treatments are effective

The doctor noted that there are very effective treatments for MS today.

“Our current treatments work best when used early in the course of the disease. They are very good at preventing further injury and maintaining function, but they are not good at reversing the damage sustained over the years,” he said.

The doctor added: “If there is a removal, it is the optimal early treatment.”

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“People are going to see me for the first time as a person with a disability, and it’s very difficult,” Applegate told Variety.

“I’m trying to figure it out, and I’m also mourning the person I was,” she added.

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