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“It Was Literally Just Tingling On My Toes,” Christina Applegate Reveals the Early Multiple Sclerosis Warning Signs She Ignored

Hollywood actor Christina Applegate isn't holding back about the emotional and physical rollercoaster she's riding while living with multiple sclerosis, recently revealing her initial symptoms may have started years before her diagnosis. Here’s what she shared – plus your look into the red flag signs you should get to your doctor stat.   

While it's important to know that Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system (the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves) and there is no current cure, there is a correlation between sugar and being able to manage the symptoms. The direct correlation is that consuming sugar leads to increased fatigue. It is advised that MS patients reduce their sugar intake as Fatigue and MS is devastating.

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Now let's dive back into the MS warning signs Christina wants us all to understand. The 52-year-old star of sitcom royalty and silver screen success peeled back the layers of her experience with the degenerative neurological disease in a recent heart-to-heart with Robin Roberts on ABC News, revealing her first warning signs started during the shooting of Netflix series Dead to Me.

"My symptoms had started in the early part of 2021, and it was literally just tingling on my toes," Applegate told ABC News. "And by the time we started shooting in the summer of that same year, I was being brought to set in a wheelchair. Like, I couldn’t walk that far."

Applegate on the set of Dead to Me

But Applegate says she thought the first warnings signs may have begun seven years before she was diagnosed, but she had brushed them off. "I really just kind of put it off as being tired, or I’m dehydrated, or it’s the weather," she mused. "And then nothing would happen for, like, months, and I didn’t pay attention."

 The “Bad Moms” actor says it was Selma Blair, fellow actor and long-time friend, who urged her to get screened for MS. Blair, who had been diagnosed in 2018, saw the signs and spoke up.

"She goes, 'You need to be checked for MS,' and I said, 'No.' I said, 'Really? The odds? The two of us from the same movie. Come on, that doesn’t happen,'" Applegate recalled. "Selma knew. If not for her, it could have been way worse."

For Applegate, facing MS means navigating a sea of challenges, and sometimes the best coping mechanism is simply staying home and dealing with it in private. "That’s kind of how I’m dealing with it, by not going anywhere," she confessed. "Because I don’t want to do it. It’s hard." 

"When people see me now as a disabled person, I want them to feel comfortable that we can laugh about it," Applegate said.

Like most people struggling with an autoimmune disease find, the hurdles are long-term and notoriously tough on both the body and mind. 

"I’m never going wake up and go, ‘This is awesome.’ I’m just going to tell you that — like, it’s not going to happen," Applegate shared candidly. "I wake up and I’m reminded of it every day. So, it’s never going to happen. But I might get to a place where I will function a little bit better."

What Exactly is MS?

If you’re wondering what Applegate – and over 1.8 million worldwide – are dealing with, we’re here to give you the rundown. MS is a disease which involves the immune system attacking itself – essentially, it means your body is turning on itself – as it breaks down the protective covering around our nerves. The result is a number of uncomfortable, painful and debilitating symptoms ranging from fatigue and brain fog to vision loss. While some may live without symptoms for their whole lives, others may suffer from severe pain – the latter often rely on a combination of physiotherapy and medication to manage symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

The most common type of MS is known as relapsing remitting MS – this affects 85% of those with the condition and is characterised by flare-ups of the neurological symptoms followed by periods of remission. Secondary progressive MS is the second type, and it can develop up to decades after the onset of symptoms and it involves a progressive deterioration of health. 

"They call it the invisible disease. It can be very lonely because it’s hard to explain to people," Applegate told ABC News. "I’m in excruciating pain, but I’m just used to it now."

The other type is primary progressive MS – it only affects between 10 and 15% of those with MS and is characterised by an early progression of symptoms, without remission periods. For most, symptoms start between 20-40 years-of-age, with women 3 times more likely to be afflicted than men. A whopping 80% of MS sufferers deal with fatigue as a result of their condition, and this can include any of the following:

  • Chronic tiredness
  • Dizziness
  • Aching or weak muscles
  • Slow reflexes
  • Poor decision-making skills
  • Low mood

MS often involves issues with balance and walking as a result of muscle weakness, tightness, numbness, or a difficulty with muscle coordination – this is called ataxia. Muscle spasticity may also be to blame as it causes involuntary movements and stiffness.

What we put on our plates is a major part of managing autoimmune diseases like MS. That's why we're inviting you to come join us for the 8-Week Program. You don’t have to buy exotic ingredients or splash your cash on new appliances; every tool you need, you’ve likely already got, and our ingredients are easily found at your local grocer. Because we know how challenging it can be to make a change in your life, and it’s the little things that make it that much easier (and fun!). Take a look at some of the exciting recipes members enjoy:

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The Early Signs Worth Investigating

Many MS patients find they had subtle early signs they shrugged off as tiredness or one-offs – like Applegate’s tingling toes – and while the following aren’t all guaranteed indications of MS, they’re certainly worth investigating to rule out a number of potential causes.

While occasional weakness and fatigue may seem like mere ‘off days’ or minor inconveniences, these could be subtle signs your body is sending, signalling the onset of a number of conditions – including MS. It’s vital to pay attention, as things tend to get worse rather than better with progressive autoimmune diseases. There’s a reason MS is often dubbed the "invisible disease" as its symptoms can masquerade as everyday fatigue or fleeting discomfort – and though you might be in debilitating pain, others can’t see a thing out of place! Before it gets to that point, however, there do tend to be smaller signs subtly trying to get your attention.

Strange Sensations: Have you ever experienced tingling, numbness, or a pins-and-needles sensation in your limbs, particularly in your toes or fingers? These peculiar sensations, often dismissed as mere quirks of the body, could be an early indication of MS. When the immune system attacks the protective covering of nerve fibres (myelin) in the central nervous system, it disrupts communication between the brain and the rest of the body, leading to these sensory disturbances. 

Unexplained Fatigue: Feeling inexplicably drained despite getting enough rest? Fatigue is a hallmark symptom of MS, but it's not your typical tiredness. It's the kind of exhaustion that seeps into your bones, leaving you depleted even after a good night's sleep. This persistent fatigue can interfere with daily activities and may be accompanied by cognitive fog or difficulty concentrating. Remember, these symptoms – especially fatigue – are a sign of many diseases, nutritional deficiencies and even mental health condition, so there’s no need to go self-diagnosing! But, it is important to start investigating causes with your doctor. 

Sudden Weakness or Loss of Balance: Are you finding your legs give out from under you occasionally? These episodes of weakness or loss of balance might seem random, but they could be early signs of MS-related muscle weakness or coordination problems. When the nerve fibres responsible for controlling muscle movement are damaged, it can result in these unexpected physical setbacks. 

Now, you might be wondering, "Why does early diagnosis matter?" The answer lies in the transformative power of timely intervention. Here's why catching MS in its tracks can make all the difference:

  • Access to Treatment: While there's currently no cure for MS, early diagnosis opens doors to a range of treatment options aimed at managing symptoms, slowing disease progression, and improving quality of life. From disease-modifying therapies to symptom management strategies, early intervention empowers individuals with MS to take proactive steps in their healthcare journey.
  • Prevention of Disability: By identifying MS early on, healthcare providers can implement targeted interventions to mitigate the risk of disability. Whether through medication, physical therapy, or lifestyle modifications, early treatment can help preserve mobility, independence, and overall functioning, minimising the impact of the disease on daily life.
  • Empowerment Through Knowledge: Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to navigating the complexities of a chronic condition like MS. An early diagnosis provides individuals with the information and resources they need to make informed decisions about their health, seek support from healthcare professionals and support networks, and proactively manage their condition with confidence. 

Applegate says awareness is key in breaking down the stigma around the condition – and she’s determined to make a change.

"I’ve been playing a character called Christina for 40 years, who I wanted everybody to think I was because it’s easier," she told ABC News. "But this is kind of my coming out party. Like, this is ... the person I’ve been this whole time. 

"I was kind of putting on a little act for everybody for so long because I just thought that was easier — be light, be funny ... don’t make people uncomfortable," she continued. "And I don’t care anymore."

Keen to learn more about MS? Head on over to MS Australia for all the latest in research, support and advocacy.

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