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15th Mar 2024

Christina Applegate’s transparency about Multiple Sclerosis is why advocacy matters

Jody Coffey

Christina Applegate

Celebrities make effective advocates for raising awareness about health issues

Christina Applegate shared her diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a degenerative neurological disease, in August of 2021.

The actress, in the face of her chronic illness, has turned her diagnosis into an advocacy, detailing her experience and journey with the condition to bring awareness to it.

Since she publicly announced her health condition to the world on her 50th birthday, six months after receiving her diagnosis, she has gone on to bring visibility to MS on a large platform.

“They call it the invisible disease”

Over the years, Applegate has been vocal about the reality of living with MS, as well as calling to attention the early signs of the condition.

While she has accepted her diagnosis, the actress recently got candid about the challenges she faces living with degenerative neurological disease.

“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 told Robin Roberts of ABC News.

“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.”

“That’s kind of how I’m dealing with it, by not going anywhere. Because I don’t want to do it. It’s hard.”

Applegate’s public vocality about her health condition has also highlighted some early indicators of MS, ones she admitted she may have overlooked if it weren’t for fellow actress and friend, Selma Blair, who also was diagnosed with MS in 2018.

“I really just kind of put it off as being tired, or I’m dehydrated”

While filming Netflix’s Dead To Me in 2021, she began to feel ‘tingling’ in her toes in early 2021, which progressively got worse.

“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,” she told Roberts.

“She [Selma Blair] 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.”

She believes that she may have started experiencing symptoms as far back as seven years before she was diagnosed, confessing that her legs would give out while filming season one of Dead to Me.

“I really just kind of put it off as being tired, or I’m dehydrated, or it’s the weather,” the actress shared.

“And then nothing would happen for, like, months, and I didn’t pay attention.”

In 2022, Applegate told the New York Times that some of the other early symptoms in her case included losing balance, not playing as well at tennis, numbness, and tingling.

Christina Applegate and Sadie Grace LeNoble attend the 29th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at Fairmont Century Plaza on February 26, 2023. Credit: Getty

Why celebrity advocacy is important for health issues

A celebrity of Applegate’s calibre bringing visibility to a chronic illness such as MS can be instrumental in fans or followers being diagnosed sooner, rather than later.

Celebrity awareness about health issues has the power to motivate people to pay attention to their health and seek answers for symptoms they may have otherwise dismissed.

When a high-profile person speaks out about their health struggles, it may also help remove any shame and stigma about them and help spark more conversation and understanding about them.

Furthermore, the actress steps out for events with her cane, which she uses as a tool for support and independence.

By using her cane publicly, she effectively highlights the reality of living with MS and others may feel inspired to do the same, rather than feeling shame about it.

Raising awareness on such a large scale, hopefully, in the long term, may influence others to advocate within their communities, fundraise, and push for policy decisions that can drive any needed change within the health system.

What is MS and what are the symptoms associated with it?

According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that over 1.8 million people worldwide live with MS.

MS is a condition that happens when the immune system attacks the central nervous system.

This results in communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body.

Its symptoms vary from person to person, depending on the location and severity of nerve fibre damage.

These can include vision problems, tiredness, tremors, trouble walking and keeping balance, stiffness, speech problems, muscle spasms, and muscle weakness, as well as many more.

MS is more common in women than men, according to the National Institutes of Health and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

It is an unpredictable condition and its symptoms can come and go, making it difficult for those living with it.

“They call it the invisible disease,” Applegate told Roberts.

“It can be very lonely because it’s hard to explain to people. I’m in excruciating pain, but I’m just used to it now.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, there is no cure for multiple sclerosis, but it can be treated.

Treatment typically centres around speeding recovery from attacks, reducing new radiographic and clinical relapses, slowing the progression of the disease, and managing symptoms.