She wishes she had paid attention to her symptoms. That’s what Christina Applegate says today. The actress suffers from multiple sclerosis. In Germany alone, more than 15,000 people suffer from the nervous disease every year. You can find out what warning signs years before the diagnosis can indicate in this article.
Christina Applegate is currently filming the third and final season of her Netflix series Dead to Me. Then comes the devastating diagnosis: multiple sclerosis, MS for short – an autoimmune disease that disrupts communication between the brain and body. That was in the summer of 2021. Production was put on hold and the actress went into therapy. But the 50-year-old was determined to bring the story to an end. It was her toughest job to date. Applegate spoke openly about this in the New York Times.
Applegate, who many know as the spoiled blonde Kelly Bundy from the cult series “A Terribly Nice Family”, is not alone in her fate. Fellow actress Selma Blair calls her her “MS sister”. Blair also went public this year with her documentary and autobiography, in which she talks about life with multiple sclerosis, among other things. In Germany, for example, the SPD politicians Malu Dreyer and Katrin Gensecke give the disease a face.
The examples already make one thing clear: MS affects women twice as often as men. At the same time, suffering is considered a disease with 1000 faces. Because how severe the symptoms are, what symptoms occur and how much they affect everyday life is very individual.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system that affects the brain and spinal cord. It usually occurs in early adulthood. According to the German Multiple Sclerosis Society (DMSG), many questions such as the cause of the disease are still unanswered. The course, symptoms and therapeutic success vary greatly from person to person. Those affected often suffer from motor disorders such as paralysis and visual disturbances.
According to the DMSG, more than 252,000 MS sufferers live in Germany. More than 15,000 people would be newly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis every year. Women get sick about twice as often as men.
“MS is different every day,” says Gensecke, a member of the state parliament. Sometimes she needs more support, sometimes less. An accompanying person can help her with driving or with appointments, for example.
Applegate also has companions for her life with multiple sclerosis. The 50-year-old posts a photo with several walking sticks on Twitter. “Cuts are now part of my new normal,” she comments. She has a very important ceremony coming up, the artist continues. “My first time off since being diagnosed with MS.”
Only in retrospect does Applegate recognize the signals her body was sending before the diagnosis. Her illness showed, for example, that she lost her balance in dance scenes or that her tennis game faltered. Over the years, the actress experienced tingling and numbness in her extremities with increasing frequency and severity. “I wish I’d paid attention,” Applegate says today. “But how should I know?”
It is very typical that the disease often begins in phases. As the German Multiple Sclerosis Society (DMSG) explains, motor disorders often occur at the beginning of MS:
“As the symptoms progress, the symptoms of paralysis are often associated with a feeling of stiffness (‘like lead on the legs’),” writes the DMSG. “This is called spasticity.” It mainly affects the legs. Bladder disorders can manifest themselves in the form of a frequent urge to urinate that cannot be easily controlled and even incontinence.
In addition, complaints can arise that are often not tangible. This includes:
MS also changed Christina Applegate’s body. “This is the first time that someone will see me as I am,” says the actress in an interview about the new episodes of her Netflix series. “I’ve gained 18 kilos and can no longer walk without a cane. I want people to know that I’m aware of all this.”
Due to the numerous, often non-specific symptoms, it often takes years to diagnose. There is also no clear marker in blood or cerebrospinal fluid or on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) images. In this respect, it usually resembles a search for clues in which many other diseases are ruled out. Relapses that occur, their intervals and characteristics, as well as damage that can be seen in the brain MRI, provide indications.
Blair was diagnosed with the nervous system disorder in 2018 after decades of on-and-off pain. “I was overwhelmed with relief,” the actress writes of the diagnosis. “Now I had a treatment plan to follow. I had information. A name.”
So if you notice the symptoms described, you should let yourself be neurologically checked. Because if MS is diagnosed early and treated quickly, it has a positive effect. Further flare-ups can be slowed down so that they no longer occur as severely and as often. Likewise, the deterioration of the state of health can be slowed down.
Experts divide multiple sclerosis into different subtypes. They differ in their course and in their characteristics, which is shown, among other things, by the stories of the prominent examples.
MS is basically divided into three forms:
Most of those affected initially develop the relapsing form, write the Cologne clinics on their website. And they go on to explain: “The occurrence of a clinical symptom that lasts longer than 24 hours is considered a flare-up. The patient can often live completely symptom-free between flare-ups.” The first flare-up is referred to as clinically isolated syndrome (CIS). Over the years, this form of MS slowly transitions into a (secondary) progressive form.
The first flare-ups usually occur in early adulthood (20 to 30 years). In rare cases, however, children or patients over the age of 60 can also suffer a first flare-up.
The neurology department differentiates from this: “The primarily chronic progressive form does not show any relapsing deterioration, but rather a slow spread of various symptoms right from the start. In most cases, it only occurs after the age of 40 and is much less common (10 to 15 percent of cases).
Modern drugs can have a positive effect on the course of the disease. “Treatment with immunomodulatory drugs can reduce the frequency and severity of relapses and slow the progression of the disease,” writes the German Multiple Sclerosis Society. The treatment is basically based on three pillars:
Sometimes with more, sometimes with fewer restrictions – life with multiple sclerosis is possible. The experts have very specific suggestions for this :
Often painful, Applegate re-learned the limits of her body on set. She had difficulty walking down the stairs, a friend held her legs in some scenes, she arrived on location in a wheelchair. Some days she couldn’t work at all. The actress says that “completing the series was the hardest thing” she’s ever done. And yet she pulled through.
Katrin Gensecke has been suffering from multiple sclerosis for more than 25 years. Her illness has stabilized over the years, even though there are always difficult times.
Blair, the actress of “Cruel Intentions”, told the US radio station NPR something similar. In the meantime, she is doing better, also thanks to a stem cell transplant: “I’m in great shape, but I have permanent damage.” Among other things, you can tell by her voice, which sometimes blocks. Blair tells more about her eventful life in her autobiography, which she dedicated to her son. She wrote it primarily to encourage other people, especially those affected by multiple sclerosis, says Blair: “It’s never too late to regain control of things.”