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Selma Blair Says She Thought Her MS Was A 'Pinched Nerve'—Here's Why

Women's Health logo Women's Health 10/22/2018 Korin Miller
(video courtesy Fox News)
  • Selma Blair revealed on Instagram Saturday that she has multiple sclerosis (MS).
  • The actress thought she had a pinched nerve until a doctor found lesions on an MRI and diagnosed her with MS.
  • MS is an incurable disease of the central nervous system that affects how the body and brain communicate. Common symptoms include fatigue, tingling and nerve pain, and difficulty walking.

Selma Blair made a pretty big reveal that surprised a lot of people this weekend: She has multiple sclerosis.

Selma, 46, who is best known for starring in Cruel Intentions and Legally Blonde, took to Instagram to tell her fans the news, posting a photo of a recent wardrobe fitting.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Selma Blair (@selmablair) on Oct 20, 2018 at 11:23am PDT

In the photo, Selma calls out costume designer Alisa Swanson (who is working on Selma's wardrobe for her upcoming Netflix show Another Life), but for helping with her disability: "She carefully gets my legs in my pants, pulls my tops over my head, buttons my coats and offers her shoulder to steady myself," Selma wrote.

That all led to her divulging her diagnosis-which she received on August 16: "I have #multiplesclerosis," she wrote. “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.”

According to Selma, she initially thought she had a pinched nerve-and her friend Elizabeth Berkley (yep, of Saved By The Bell) urged her to see her brother Jason Berkley, D.O., a neurologist in Los Angeles. Selma says Berkley gave her the MS diagnosis after "finding lesions on [an] MRI."

"I have had symptoms for years," Selma wrote, "but was never taken seriously until I fell down in front of [Jason Berkley] trying to sort out what I thought was a pinched nerve."

Hold on, tell me a little bit about multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an often disabling disease of the central nervous system, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The body's immune system attacks nerve endings in the central nervous system, per the NIH, which essentially disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body.

An estimated 2.3 million people are living with MS, worldwide, per the National MS Society-though those numbers may be higher due to inconsistent reporting and tracking of the disease.

The most common symptom of MS is fatigue-about 80 percent of people with MS report significant tiredness that interferes with work and home life, per the National MS Society. Other common symptoms include numbness or tingling, difficulty walking, weakness, feelings of stiffness, vision problems, dizziness, bowel problems, pain, emotional changes, and depression.

What about Selma's "pinched nerve"? Can MS symptoms mimic that?

While it's not entirely clear what Selma felt when she referenced a pinched nerve, it's likely that she was experiencing some sort of numbness or tingling somewhere on her body-another common symptom of MS.

The main difference between a pinched nerve and MS symptoms, however, is that a pinched nerve causes numbness or tingling in a specific, limited area of the body, while “MS tends to cause more encompassing symptoms where, for example, an entire limb might go numb and weak or half the body," says Amit Sachdev, M.D., an assistant professor and director of the Division of Neuromuscular Medicine at Michigan State University.

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A post shared by Selma Blair (@selmablair) on Oct 18, 2018 at 9:13pm PDT

Still, it's extremely common for MS patients to write off their symptoms at first, like Selma did, says Sachdeve. “It is very tempting to ascribe early findings of MS to common disorders like strains, sprains, or pinches,” he says. “The difference is the common disorders often resolve. MS doesn't resolve and needs to be treated.” Even doctors will often misdiagnose an MS patient with a more common condition at first, he says.

Selma herself, for example, estimates that she's had the disease for quite a while: “I have probably had this incurable disease for 15 years at least," she wrote.

What about Selma's other MS symptoms? How common are they?

Extremely so-patients with MS will see lots of the same symptoms Selma is experiencing.

“The most obvious symptoms in MS are sensory and motor,” he says, that means people with MS have a lot of trouble getting around and doing basic movements. "Common manifestations are an inability to dress, dropping items, difficulty controlling part of the body, and subsequent falls," says Sachdeve. The more pronounced and bothersome those movement issues are, the more progressed the disorder has become.

As for her extreme tiredness-Selma highlighted that symptom in her Instagram post by saying, "You want to sleep. You always want to sleep."-that's an extremely common symptom too, per the National MS Society.

So how is MS treated-and is there a cure?

No, there's no cure for MS-but the disease can be managed in order to slow progression, says Sachdev. There are some drugs available (like steroids) to deal with symptoms like inflammation, according to the NIH, and people can go to physical therapy and keep up with light exercise to help with their mobility.

As the disease progresses, it may eventually result in paralysis-though, according to the National MS Society, two-thirds of people with MS will remain able to walk. MS may also decrease someone's life expectancy. Still, “there is hope that patients can remain highly functional for longer periods of time,” says Sachdev.

As for Selma, she says she's currently “in the thick of it” but wants to give others hope. “You can’t get help unless you ask,” she wrote-and while she wants everyone to know that she has MS and is okay right now, she may still need a little extra help. “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,” she wrote.


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