Actress Selma Blair diagnosed with incurable neurological condition

Actress Selma Blair diagnosed with incurable neurological condition

Actress Selma Blair, 46, of “Cruel Intentions,” “Legally Blonde” and the sitcom “Zoe, Duncan, Jack and Jane,” recently revealed that she has multiple sclerosis (MS), a neurological condition that attacks the white matter of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerve.

Although diagnosed in August, Blair had symptoms for 15 years, and thought most recently she had a pinched nerve.

Dr. Timothy J. Mikesell, a neurologist with the Advocate Brain & Spine Institute at Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, Ill., who treats patients with multiple sclerosis, says that MS destroys the fatty sheathing (myelin) that covers and protects the neurons of the brain.

He says the illness can develop at any age and is usually diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 60. It is an autoimmune condition and the cause is unknown, but it affects women at a rate almost double that of men.

The diagnosis at times can be difficult, according to Dr. Mikesell, who says symptoms are vast and vary from person to person. There are multiple symptoms that can also be attributed to other health issues, especially when those symptoms are subtle such as fatigue, mild weakness or slight loss of balance. Other issues include numbness or tingling in the face or extremities, vertigo, difficulty walking, dropping objects, foggy memory, vision issues, like blurred or double vision and bladder or bowel issues.

MS symptoms can ebb and flow, says Dr. Mikesell. Episodes of an MS flair-up can last from a couple of weeks to a few months. It is also not uncommon for recurrence of previous symptoms when imaging will not reveal an active MS lesion.

Because for some patients the symptoms are not constant, patients who have troublesome symptoms will often decide against seeking medical advice as the symptoms will go away. And some doctors will take a wait-and-see approach with symptoms, and then symptoms disappear – for a while.

There is no simple lab test to diagnose MS. After ruling out other health issues and evaluating lab findings, Dr. Mikesell will order an MRI to scan for lesions on the brain and spinal cord. “Lesions indicate that the immune system has attacked the myelin,” says Dr. Mikesell. While in some patients, the brain and spine will fully heal after an attack, most patients will show some injury on the MRI. “With repeated attacks, damage accumulates, and symptoms can become permanent.” This is how MS can cause disability.

Dr. Mikesell says the earlier the diagnosis can be made, the less likelihood of disability. The treatments currently available to manage the disease are more effective the sooner the treatments begin. Medications are available to reduce frequency and severity of symptoms. Physical therapy is also used to manage symptoms.

“Let your physician know if any new symptoms occur, even if you are not sure they are related,” says Dr. Mikesell.

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Kate Eller
Kate Eller

Kate Eller was a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations for Advocate Health Care. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking.”