Understanding MS after Selma Blair Speaks Out

October 26, 2018

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Florian Thomas, M.D., Ph.D. contributes to topics such as Neuroscience.

Krupa Pandey, M.D. contributes to topics such as Neuroscience.

Blair’s Shocking Multiple Sclerosis Announcement: “I Have Had Symptoms for Years

By Katie Lynch

With over 100K “likes” and compassionate comments, American actress Selma Blair announced last weekend that she has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Blair shares her story in an emotional post to proclaim her appreciation for those who support her, spread awareness and provide hope for anyone who may be experiencing something similar. Blair joins a list of celebrities who have been diagnosed with the nerve-based condition that includes Montel Williams, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Ann Romney and Jack Osbourne.

However, Blair mentions that she “probably had this incurable disease for 15 years at least.” This probably makes you wonder, how do neurologists make a diagnosis of MS?

We connected with Florian Thomas, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center and chair of the Neuroscience Institute and the Department of Neurology at Hackensack University Medical Center to learn a bit more about this disease, how to know if you are affected and what the best treatment options are.

What is MS?

“Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system in which the immune system, designed to protect people from infections, is overactive and attacks the insulation which surrounds the brain and spinal cord, called myelin,” shares Dr. Thomas.

Unpredictable in its relapsing remitting course, and often disabling, MS disrupts the flow of information within the brain and spinal cord– this results in symptoms of MS.

What are the symptoms of MS and how is it treated?

Krupa Pandey, M.D., a fellowship trained MS specialist at Hackensack University Medical Center’s MS Center relays that, “For the majority of patients, MS starts with an abrupt onset of symptoms such as imbalance, weakness, vision loss, numbness, tingling, dizziness or a tight sensation in their trunk which lasts for more than a few days. That loss reaches its peak in variable amounts of time, and then typically there’s complete or partial recovery.”

“Treatment for MS is broken down into several parts: treatment for the relapse, prevention of further relapses with preventative agents and treatment of the symptoms that are left behind after a relapse is over,” Dr. Pandey adds.

“Since the first specific treatments to prevent MS disability were introduced 25 years ago, options have expanded dramatically with new drugs being introduced every few years – this allows us to personalize care and change treatment options as the patient’s needs dictate,” says Dr. Thomas.

When it comes to diet and other tips for living with MS, Dr. Thomas advises, “There is no evidence that any diet is particularly better than another for those with MS. Maintaining an ideal body weight and getting enough sleep are important, although it can be difficult if walking ability is impaired. Most importantly, patients need to regularly follow up with the doctor on their treatment team so that the most effective drugs can be provided safely.”

How is MS diagnosed?

“MS is diagnosed when a person’s symptoms and abnormal findings on exam are suggestive of MS, and that suspicion is confirmed by an abnormal MRI of the brain and spinal cord. Sometimes we also analyze cerebral spinal fluid, which would also be abnormal in a person with MS,” shares Dr. Thomas. “It is equally important to make sure that a patient does not suffer from one of many MS mimics by ordering special blood tests.”

Does MS often go undiagnosed?

“MS can go undiagnosed, and that often reflects a failure to recognize the real issue – whether that means the physician has misdiagnosed the issue, or the patient ignores symptoms and doesn’t seek medical care,” shares Dr. Thomas. “MS can also be over-diagnosed, when in reality, a patient suffers from another condition.”

Dr. Thomas also notes, “Some neurologists have special training in MS and practice in MS Centers where they work with an interprofessional team that can include rehab therapists, nurses, social workers, neuropsychologists and counseling psychologists and urologists. If you suspect you might have MS, you can choose to visit a specialized, multidisciplinary center, like the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Hackensack University Medical Center. Supporting your individual needs, you can discuss your concerns with a team of specialists including neurologists, psychologists, neuro-psychologists and physical therapists.”

How can you support a loved one who has MS?

“To support a loved one, you need to educate yourself on MS. There are various resources like the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America that provide a wide-breadth of information on the disease,” advises Dr. Thomas. “If the patient is open to it, accompany them to their medical appointments, as well.”

“Day to day support is also crucial,” adds Dr. Pandey. “If the disease advances, patients may need help preparing healthy meals, finding transportation to appointments and emotional support.”

Where can I find help?

Hackensack Meridian Health’s Multiple Sclerosis Center consists of an interprofessional team of experts who are dedicated to delivering comprehensive and coordinated care to improve symptoms, minimize pain and help patients live a fuller life. As all patients and their needs are different, our care team can work closely with you to decide the best individual course of treatment. To learn more about MS or to make an appointment with one of our specialists, visit HackensackUMC.org/Multiple-Sclerosis.

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The material provided through Health Hub is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.