In an emotional Instagram post last month, the actress revealed her diagnosis.
“I have #multiplesclerosis. I am in an exacerbation,” she wrote. “By the grace of the Lord, and willpower and the understanding producers at Netflix, I have a job. A wonderful job. I am disabled. I fall sometimes. I drop things. My memory is foggy. And my left side is asking for directions from a broken GPS. But we are doing it. And I laugh and I don’t know exactly what I will do precisely but I will do my best.”
The actress shared she was diagnosed with MS back in August after she was prodded by her friend, actress Elizabeth Berkley, to visit a doctor: Berkley’s own brother.
"And the biggest thanks to @elizberkley who forced me to see her brother #drjasonberkley who gave me this diagnosis after finding lesions on that MRI," Blair wrote. "I have had symptoms for years but was never taken seriously until I fell down in front of him trying to sort out what I thought was a pinched nerve. I have probably had this incurable disease for 15 years at least. And I am relieved to at least know. And share."
Blair’s revelation has helped shine a light on a disease that affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide. According to the National MS Society, symptoms can be completely invisible, which is why the prevalence of the disease in the U.S. can only be estimated – and why people like Blair can live with the disease for years and not even know it.
What is MS?
“Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the protective covering of the nerves in the central nervous system which includes the brain, spinal cord and nerves to the eye,” Dr. Mitzi Joi Williams, M.D., a neurologist at the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Atlanta, tells Organic Authority.
According to Dr. Williams, after head trauma, MS, which is incurable, is the second most common cause of chronic neurologic dysfunction in young people. While people can be diagnosed with MS at any age, the average age of diagnosis is between ages 20-40.
Who’s at Risk
“There is a genetic component and people with a first degree relative who has MS do have a slightly higher risk of disease, but it is not a directly inherited disease, like for instance sickle cell disease,” says Dr. Williams. “There are many people with MS who do not have other family members with the disease. There are some families with multiple people with MS and also some families with multiple people with autoimmune diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, for example.”
What are the Symptoms?
According to Dr. Williams, there are "silent symptoms of MS" which include fatigue, bladder dysfunction, and cognitive impairment.
The most common symptoms of MS that lead to diagnosis include decreased vision (usually in one eye), numbness or weakness on one side of the body or in an arm or leg.
“People may also have decreased balance and fall when trying to walk,” Dr. Williams says, adding that symptoms can often be mistaken for stroke or other common neurologic problems like neuropathy.
Some common symptoms of MS that can be confused with other symptoms include numbness in the leg or numbness in the arm. Similar to Blair’s experience, Dr. Williams says if the symptoms occur in a young person, they may be mistaken as a pinched nerve or degenerative disease in the spine.
“The patient may be referred to physical therapy and if the symptoms totally resolve -- which they commonly do in early MS -- they may never follow up,” she says. “Likewise if there is numbness in the hands, it may be presumed to be carpal tunnel syndrome. If the symptoms resolve, again, they may not follow up for further testing.”
While MS might be difficult to diagnose, Dr. Williams says i you have new neurologic symptoms such as numbness and tingling, weakness or visual loss, you should always see your doctor for evaluation.
What Happens to Your Body
“As MS progresses, the changes in the body depend on the areas that have already been damaged,” Dr. Williams says. “After 10 to 20 years of disease, some people’s MS will become more progressive or they notice small changes over time as opposed to sudden changes.”
People with MS might also have slow worsening of weakness, slow worsening of numbness, cognitive or thinking problems, fatigue and possibly bowel or bladder dysfunction.
While there are medications to treat MS that can slow progression and prevent some disability, there isn’t a cure for the disease. However, according to Dr. Williams, many people with MS are able to live very productive lives. “As technology has improved and access to MR imaging has increased, we are now able to diagnose people much earlier and start therapy with medications to try to slow progression and prevent disability,” she says, adding, “It’s important for people diagnosed with MS to see a neurologist regularly to make sure their medication is working well and to report any new symptoms.”
While the disease is certainly challenging, Blair is approaching her diagnosis with an open mind and heart.
“I am in the thick of it but I hope to give some hope to others. And even to myself” she wrote on Instagram. “You can’t get help unless you ask. It can be overwhelming in the beginning. You want to sleep. You always want to sleep. So I don’t have answers. You see, I want to sleep. But I am a forthcoming person and I want my life to be full somehow. I want to play with my son again. I want to walk down the street and ride my horse. I have MS and I am ok. But if you see me, dropping crap all over the street, feel free to help me pick it up. It takes a whole day for me alone. Thank you and may we all know good days amongst the challenges.”
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