Christina Applegates MS: This is why early symptoms are often overlooked

Actress Christina Applegate apparently overlooked the early symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) before she was diagnosed last summer on the set of the third and final season of Dead To Me, which will premiere November 17 on Netflix.

“I was diagnosed while we were working,” the Emmy-winner said in a recent interview with Variety.

“I had to call everyone and say, ‘I have multiple sclerosis, guys.'”

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She added, “And then it was about a kind of learning — we all learned — which I was going to be able to do.”

The 50-year-old rose to fame as the giddy daughter in the raunchy TV comedy Married… With Children, but has continued to show her acting versatility with shows ranging from Friends to popular films like Anchorman.

Christina Applegate visits Netflix "dead to me" Season One Premiere on Broad Stage on May 2, 2019 in Santa Monica, California.

Christina Applegate attends the Netflix season one premiere of “Dead To Me” at Broad Stage on May 2, 2019 in Santa Monica, California.
(Presley Ann/Getty Images)

On November 14, she will be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her work.

She is open about her early 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.

Although it’s unclear what causes the disease, something triggers the immune system to attack the nervous system, the group also says.

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This 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 envelope of the Epstein-Barr virus, one of the world's most prevalent viruses.  New research has provided stronger evidence that Epstein-Barr infection may put some people on the path to developing multiple sclerosis later.

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

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

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

Every patient’s experience with MS is different.

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

However, every patient’s experience with MS 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.

She relates it to “the way one suspects a stroke when an older person” develops neurological symptoms.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, most people with MS have early symptoms as young adults, typically between the ages of 20 and 40.

In addition to vision problems, most people with MS also experience muscle weakness in the arms or legs and problems with balance, which can become severe enough to make it difficult for them to walk or stand.

In addition to vision problems, most people with MS also experience muscle weakness in the arms or legs and problems with balance, which can become severe enough to make it difficult for them to walk or stand.
(iStock)

A common early symptom is vision problems, like 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 problems that can become severe enough to cause them to have trouble walking or standing.

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

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Applegate said she “slept all the time” after her diagnosis and used a wheelchair to get around on set because walking was difficult, according to Variety.

Symptoms are subtle and often overlooked

However, these symptoms are non-specific and subtle, so patients may initially dismiss them.

“Approximately half of all people with MS have cognitive impairments such as impaired concentration, attention, memory and judgment, but such symptoms are usually mild and often overlooked,” says 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.”

According to the New York Times, Applegate recalled having balance problems while filming a dance sequence on the first season of Dead To Me before he was officially diagnosed.

“I wish I was paying attention,” she told the publication. “But who should I know?”

She later noted that her tennis game was beginning to suffer, but she didn’t link it to a medical issue, the same report said.

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

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

But Applegate’s experience can be a shared experience for other MS patients.

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

However, some cases can result in partial or total paralysis, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke noted on its website.

Most patients experience temporary numbness, tingling, or pins and needles.

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Applegate told the Times she began experiencing numbness and tingling in her extremities, which worsened over several years before she was finally diagnosed last year.

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

An MS diagnosis

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

An MS patient may only have symptoms temporarily – and then over time those symptoms partially or completely disappear. But then they can “relapse”.

“An exacerbation of MS (also known as a flare, attack, or relapse) is the appearance 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 disease process.”

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

“An MS flare-up is any neurological symptom, such as deafness, weakness, vision problems, or gait disturbances, among others, that occurs and lasts for a few days or weeks” — and then gradually resolves, Perumal said.

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“A patient with MS can have a normal exam between relapses.”

Current treatments are effective

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

“Our current treatments work best when used early in the disease process. They’re very good at preventing further injury and maintaining function, but they’re not good at reversing injuries sustained over years,” she said.

The doctor added, “If there’s one to take away, it’s early optimal treatment.”

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

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

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