Christina Applegate is the latest celebrity to reveal that she has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). The Emmy-award winning actress took to Twitter a few weeks ago and shared her diagnosis with the world.
Since becoming aware of her diagnosis a few months ago, Applegate has expressed gratitude for the many people who have shown support who also suffer from MS, such as Selma Blair and Montel Williams. Although Applegate describes her journey as strange and a tough road, she is also aware that the road keeps going, and is prepared to cope with her condition.
What is multiple sclerosis (MS)?
Multiple sclerosis is a condition that causes disabling damage to the brain and central nervous system. When a person suffers from MS, the immune system attacks the protective sheath, known as myelin, that covers nerve fibers. The inflammation caused by these attacks can disrupt the signals of those nerves to the brain, causing communication issues between the person’s brain and the rest of their body. Over time, this disease can cause permanent damage or deterioration of the nerves, which is why it’s vital that doctors diagnose it properly.
What are the risk factors of MS?
Some of the risk factors for MS include age, gender, geographic location, and particular health conditions such as smoking and adolescent obesity. Research indicates that MS is three to four times more prevalent in women than in men. Regarding age, most people who are diagnosed with MS are diagnosed between 20 and 50 years old. People of Northern European descent and people who live farther from the equator are also at a higher risk of contracting MS, as reduced levels of vitamin D play a significant role in the development of MS.
What are the symptoms of multiple sclerosis?
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis can vary greatly from person to person, and are dependent upon the amount of nerve damage sustained and which nerves are affected. Because the symptoms of MS are similar to other diseases and conditions, many medical professionals have difficulties properly diagnosing MS.
Some of the more common symptoms of MS include a weakness in legs, problems with balance, difficulty with memory and the ability to process information, bowel or bladder problems, and vertigo. Some people suffer vision problems such as prolonged double vision, blurry vision, and partial or complete loss of vision. Others may experience fatigue, slurred speech, dizziness, or tingling or pain in parts of your body.
Is it difficult to diagnose multiple sclerosis?
Because the symptoms of MS are similar to a variety of other neurological diseases and conditions, many medical professionals struggle with properly diagnosing MS. In fact, a study from the May 2019 edition of the journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders asserted that nearly one in five people with other neurologic conditions are mistakenly diagnosed with MS.
The reason for the diagnostic errors concerning MS can stem from the fact that there is no particular test that can accurately determine an MS diagnosis. The lack of a single test and the fact that MS causes different symptoms in different people makes it very difficult for medical professionals to accurately diagnose MS. Even with the refined criteria for a MS diagnosis, medical professionals must use the process of elimination to come to an accurate diagnosis of MS.
What tests are used to diagnose MS?
Typically, medical professionals administer several tests to determine a diagnosis of MS. To determine the cause of possible MS symptoms, physicians start by looking into the patient’s family and medical history to discover whether other members of the patient’s family suffered from MS or other autoimmune diseases.
Next, the physician will request that the patient perform a neurologic evaluation, where the patient’s movement and coordination, vision, balance, and mental and emotional functioning are evaluated. The physician will also conduct blood tests. While there are no specific blood tests for MS, blood tests can be used to help eliminate other conditions as the cause of the symptoms that are similar to MS. Some of the conditions that can be ruled out from a blood test involve Lyme Disease, certain rare hereditary disorders, AIDS, and collagen-vascular diseases.
Physicians also implement the use of MRIs and Cerebrospinal Fluid Tests (CSF) to help reach an accurate diagnosis of MS. MRI scans employ magnetic fields and radio waves to detect lesions in the brain that indicate the possibility of MS. In the CSF test, the physician draws a few tablespoons of spinal fluid from the patient’s lower vertebrae with a syringe.
With people who suffer from MS, the spinal fluid usually contains elevated levels of certain antibodies and a group of proteins known as oligoclonal bands. The presence of these antibodies and proteins indicates inflammation in the central nervous system.
Dangerous effects of an MS misdiagnosis
A misdiagnosis of MS can result in harmful effects for patients. Patients may suffer severe side effects from taking medication that they should not have been taking in the first place. In the same study from the Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders journal, it was discovered that 72 percent of the patients that were misdiagnosed with MS were prescribed MS treatments. Of those, 48 percent of the patients received treatments that can carry the risk of a viral infection-caused disease in the white matter of the brain.
The effects of unnecessary medications are not the only risk that a misdiagnosis of MS can cause. If a patient suffers from another neurological condition, that condition may worsen because the patient was not receiving the proper treatment.