Christina Applegate Was Recently Diagnosed With MS—a Disease That’s 3 Times More Common in Women Than Men. Here’s What You Need to Know

by Meera Becker

With the release of the final season of Dead to Me along with the release of her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on November 14th, Christina Applegate has recently been making headlines. Applegate is an incredibly talented actress who has starred in many movies and TV shows from the beloved 90s sitcom Friends to Anchorman 2 (and of course first came to fame in the nightmarishly misogynist sitcom, Married With Children). 

Apart from being adored on screen, Applegate has also been very open with the public about her experience with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Applegate was first diagnosed in the summer of 2021, and since then has been bravely learning how to navigate this unpredictable disease. In an interview with The New York Times, Applegate mentioned that there were signs she missed early on stating, “I wish I had paid attention…But who was I to know?” In the same interview, she said she recalled feeling dizzy during a dancing scene while filming her show, and later noticed she was struggling to keep up during her regular tennis matches. It wasn’t until she started getting increasingly worse feelings of tingling and numbness that she went to the doctor and received her MS diagnosis. Applegate shares that if she had known what to look for, she might have been able to receive her diagnosis and start her treatment far sooner. This is one of the reasons why she has been so outspoken on her MS, to help spread awareness to those who may not know about this disease. 

What Is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis is a disease that affects the body’s central nervous system, the control center for everything we do. The central nervous system is responsible for taking in sensory information, processing that information, and then sending out the appropriate motor signals throughout the body. The National MS Society reports that MS causes the immune system to attack the central nervous system which can lead to an array of possible symptoms including numbness, tingling, memory problems, mood changes, pain fatigue, vision problems, and/or paralysis. MS is a lifelong disease that continues to progress over time as the body’s immune system continues to eat away at its nerves and causes further damage to the central nervous system. Over time, symptoms may worsen as muscles weaken, and may lead to difficulty walking requiring an aid or wheelchair, impeded thinking, memory, and even blindness.

According to the National MS Society, while there is currently no known cause for MS, there is evidence that “shows that low vitamin D levels, smoking, and obesity all play important roles in the development of MS.” MS is not an inherited disease but there has been an indication that children of parents with MS may be more likely to develop it. 

There is no known cure for MS, but luckily there are medicines and other treatments to help ease the symptoms. Managing MS is an ongoing process but treatments such as physical therapy can help ease the pain many patients experience and medications can suppress the immune system which helps to slow down the progression of the disease. 

The National MS Society also states that they have found that “people with MS lived on average seven years less than the general population” but that the life expectancy for those diagnosed with MS is continuing to increase. 

Women and MS

Unfortunately, studies have also found that MS is three times more likely to occur in women than in men and is most prevalent in women of childbearing age. WebMD notes that women are also much more likely to be diagnosed with autoimmune diseases in general, reporting that 7/10 people with an autoimmune disease are female. 

The reasoning for this is still not completely clear but doctors at Johns Hopkins Medicine have found that the trend of MS being more common in women is much less significant until after puberty, indicating that female hormones such as estrogen might be playing a role. Inflammation has also been shown to increase the presence of MS and “women typically carry more fat on their bodies than men, and obesity rates are higher for women as well. Belly fat, in particular, is associated with increased inflammation.” Doctors warn that “carrying extra body weight may be especially risky for women” because “the inflammation chemicals in women’s bodies are different from those in men.”

While it is still unclear as to exactly why women are more likely to get MS, the director of the Johns Hopkins Precision Medicine Center of Excellence for Multiple Sclerosis emphasizes that “it’s important for women and men alike with MS to get on the best therapy for them as early as possible.”

What to Look Out For–And What to Do

Getting diagnosed as soon as possible is very important when it comes to MS because it can make a huge difference in the amount of damage done to the body. The Pacific Neuroscience Institute states that the most important warning signs to look out for are fatigue, numbness or tingling, vision problems, weakness, muscle spasms and stiffness, balance problems, torso tightness, pain, change in bladder habits, sexual problems, constipation, depression, cognitive changes, tremors, and difficulty swallowing or speaking. While all of these symptoms could also be caused by something else, “MS can be diagnosed in otherwise-healthy people so don’t just dismiss your symptoms and assume they’ll go away on their own.” If you experience any of these new or worsening symptoms it is always best to have them checked out by a doctor to see if they are being caused by an underlying disease such as MS. 

Top Photo: Chistina Applegate at Comic-Con in 2014, by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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