March Is MS Awareness Month. I am dedicating this post to the 1 million Americans who struggle every day with the symptoms of MS. Selma Blair has just recently revealed her own MS diagnosis and did an interview with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America. Many of you have probably already seen the video. Here it is:
For those of you unfamiliar with Multiple Sclerosis, it is a baffling and unpredictable auto-immune disease that typically affects women ages 20-40. Its origin is still unknown, but it is thought to be caused by a combination of a genetic predisposition, environmental factors, with an infectious component. Other risks include low Vitamin D, obesity during childhood and adolescence, smoking, and an immunity factor. The disease affects each individual uniquely with a wide scope of different symptoms affecting different regions of the body. The severity of the disease ranges from minor disability all the way to paralysis and death.
The myelin sheath, which coats all nerves, acts as a conduit through which signals are efficiently transmitted from the brain to the rest of the body. With MS, the body’s immune system mistakes healthy tissue, the myelin sheath, for a foreign invader and attacks it, destroying it. It is a progressive disease and eventually, as more and more myelin sheath is destroyed, the signals get slower and slower and may stop altogether. An MRI diagnosis will show lesions or scars (sclerosis) on the brain or spine. The position of the lesions will determine which areas of the body are affected. There are different types of MS. There is the episodic type where the individual experiences a flare up/worsening of symptoms lasting from a few days to a few months, or the arrival of new symptoms. The other type is progressive where the disease slowly and gradually worsens with time.
The first early warning episode, Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS), starts with tingling and numbness and typically lasts for only 24 hours. The individual may recover partially and/or completely and may or may not develop MS.
- Chronic Fatigue
- Vision problems; blurred vision and neuritis
- Tingling and numbness
- Spasticity where certain muscles remained contracted for long periods
- Muscle tremors, muscle spasms and loss of muscle control
- Gastrointestinal problems, including constipation, digestive problems and lack of bladder and bowel control
- Concentration problems including memory loss, loss of focus and language loss
- Nerve and neuropathic pain
- Difficulties with mobility
- Sexual dysfunction
- Depression and anxiety
Selma Blair, in retrospect, believes that the first of her MS symptoms started years ago, possibly as long ago as 15 years. Most recently, she thought she had a pinched nerve. During one episode, her entire leg went dead. She starting dropping objects. She would fall down. She experienced memory problems which she describes as “foggy.” Her left side is more affected than her right side. As her symptoms worsened, she became more and more sure that there was something seriously wrong. For years, she was unable to convince her doctors of this. In her frustration, she sought out a new doctor; the brother of fellow actress, Elizabeth Berkley. During her first visit, he witnessed her falling down for no apparent reason. She was finally diagnosed in 2018 through an MRI which showed 20 MS-related lesions on her brain. Strangely, it was a relief.
Ms. Blair has the episodic type where she experiences flare-ups which accompany a new patch of inflammation in the brain or spine. A flare-up can mimic a stroke; with weakness, and numbness with a loss of coordination. The actress also has spasmodic dysphonia, which was immediately noticeable when she began to speak. Her speech is very shaky and inconsistent. It is a neurological disorder that affects the muscles in the larynx (voice box). The vocal cords experience spasms, sudden and involuntary movements, which interfere with the transmission of smooth vocal sounds.
There are several treatment options including prescription medications, physical therapy, exercise and stretching. Medical cannabis has been shown to control several of the symptoms of MS.
Cannabis researchers are understanding the extent of the role that inflammation plays in every disease and disorder. As a proven anti-inflammatory, medical cannabis controls the following symptoms of MS:
- Decreases spasticity by relaxing contracted muscles and reduces muscle spasms
- Helps with memory and concentration through its neuroprotective properties and can help generate new neuron cells in the brain
- Reduces pain which goes hand in hand with inflammation
- Reduces mood disorders such as depression and anxiety which were originally thought to be a result of coping with the diagnosis and prognosis of a serious, life changing medical condition. Recent cannabis research suggests that the depression and anxiety that goes with MS is caused by inflammation in the brain
- Helps relieve digestive problems by reducing inflammation, stimulating appetite, controlling nausea and vomiting, and decreasing diarrhea
- Helps with the quality and length of sleep cycles. It is by far the least addictive and most beneficial sleep aid available. It facilitates deeper sleep that lasts for longer periods by reducing the spasticity and pain which keeps MS patients awake
- Relieves inflammation of the optic nerve which can cause swelling and blurred vision. Chronic optic nerve inflammation is degenerative which can lead to retinal degeneration and glaucoma
The good news is that the stigma that once accompanied an MS diagnosis is disappearing. My father was finally diagnosed with MS in 1978, after 5 years of countless doctor appointments and tests. My parents hid the news from everyone, even his sister, until it became clear that he had a serious condition.
Source: womenshealthmag.com, Selma Blair Struggled With MS Symptoms Years Before Her Diagnosis, Korin Miller & Amy Wilkinson, Feb 26, 2019