People living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) often experience years of unexplained symptoms before receiving an accurate diagnosis. In a throwback Thursday photo on Instagram, actor Selma Blair described some of her early symptoms of MS, TODAY reported. "A beautiful summer night in Miami. My flare was already hitting. I didn’t know what was happening. But I sat outside and had a gorgeous dinner with my dear friend. All we have is right now. This. Is the past. But I remember knowing to just feel the warmth in the breeze. The gift of this trip," she said in her Instagram post. "Under the table my leg was dead. I couldn’t stay awake and my right hand couldn’t find my mouth."
Blair's experience is common in the early stages of MS. The L Word actor Clementine Ford recently shared her experience living with MS with Bustle. And like early MS symptoms Blair detailed in a recent interview withVanity Fair, Ford said she experienced MS symptoms such as vision problems, depression, trouble walking, vertigo, extreme exhaustion, and unexplained body pain, numbness, and weakness for years before being diagnosed with MS. These symptoms can be both debilitating and frightening, but because they can present with any number of illnesses, MS is notoriously difficult to diagnose, especially in its early stages.
"In early MS, elusive symptoms that come and go might indicate any number of possible disorders. Some people have symptoms that are very difficult for physicians to interpret, and these people must 'wait and see.' While no single laboratory test is yet available to prove or rule out MS, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a great help in reaching a definitive diagnosis," the National Multiple Sclerosis Society wrote on its website.
MS, which affects women twice as often as it does men, is a disease of the central nervous system that occurs when when the protective layers surrounding nerve fibers, known as myelin, are damaged, according to the NMSS.
"Myelin is destroyed and replaced by scars of hardened 'sclerotic' patches of tissue. Such lesions are called 'plaques,' and appear in 'multiple' places within the central nervous system. This can be compared to a loss of insulating material around an electrical wire, which interferes with the transmission of signals," the NMSS explained.
MS symptoms can range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, depending on the type of MS a person has. Both Blair and Ford have relapsing-remitting MS, which Kathy Costello, associate vice president of healthcare access at NMSS, previously told Bustle "describes a temporary flare up of symptoms that then remit."
Other more debilitating forms of MS include primary-progressive MS, which presents more persistent symptoms, and progressive-relapsing MS, the most severe form of the disease, characterized by a steady progression of symptoms.
The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation's MS Focus Magazine outlined early symptoms of MS, including: vision problems, numbness or tingling, unexplained fatigue, difficulty walking, bladder-control problems, sexual problems, depression, and muscle spasms. Onset can happen as early as age 20, and MS symptoms tend to come and go over a period of years, which is what happened to Ford. When her symptoms began to happen all at once and didn't go away, her doctor ordered an MRI and found multiple brain and spinal lesions indicating MS.
Ford previously told Bustle that she likely had the illness for 10 years before being diagnosed, and in an Instagram post, Blair said she suspects she's had it for 15 years. Both women said they thought their early MS symptoms were the result of a pinched nerve. While Ford told Bustle she doesn't have a family history of MS, people who have an immediate family member with MS are up to 5 percent more likely to develop MS than those with no family history, according to the NMSS, which explained that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to MS.
While no one wants to be diagnosed with MS, finally knowing why symptoms are happening can be a relief. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Blair said this was the case for her. Knowing that she had MS meant she could finally begin treating it. And, though there is no cure for MS, treating the illness can help significantly alleviate the symptoms.
My mom was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS when I was 10. Her symptoms were severe in the beginning, and she had to walk with a cane. However, once she knew what she had and could begin treating it, she improved and has had symptom-free periods that lasted for years. If you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms, talk to your doctor. Make sure to report any family history of MS. Your symptoms might not be from MS, but the sooner you know what's causing them, the sooner you can begin treatment.