Multiple Celebrities with Multiple Sclerosis

This is a guest entry by Deborah Lamontagne of the Department of Pathology, Division of Laboratory Medicine, Stem Cell Laboratory, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

During her speech at the Democratic National Convention Michelle Obama informed the audience that her father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when he was in his early thirties. This is an excerpt from the speech:

“My Dad was our rock. Although he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in his early thirties, he was our provider, our champion, our hero. But as he got sicker, it got harder for him to walk, it took him longer to get dressed in the morning. But if he was in pain, he never let on. He never stopped smiling and laughing — even while struggling to button his shirt, even while using two canes to get himself across the room to give my Mom a kiss. He just woke up a little earlier, and worked a little harder.”

Michele Obama is just one more person whose life was touched by this unpredictable and debilitating disease called multiple sclerosis. You may know of other famous people who are affected by the disease: musicians Alan Osmond of the Osmonds, ountry singer Clay Walker, actors Annette Funicello, Terri Garr, Lena Horne, David “Squiggy” Lander, Richard Pryor and TV personality Montel Williams. These are just a few.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects the central nervous system. It is thought to be an autoimmune disease. The fatty substance (myelin) that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers in the central nervous system is attacked by a patient’s own immune system damaging them and forming scar tissue (sclerosis). This can happen in multiple locations in the brain or along the spinal cord, hence the name multiple sclerosis. Nerve impulses traveling anywhere to or from the brain and spinal cord are then disrupted, resulting in a person displaying symptoms ranging from fatigue, numbness, tingling, blurred vision to lack of coordination and paralysis. Since these symptoms are not specific to MS, and may wax and wane over time in any patient, it is often difficult to make the diagnosis.

There is no cure but research continues to make advances in understanding the disease mechanisms and drug treatments. The latter include drugs that manage the symptoms, treat attacks or flare-ups, and injections with interferons. Interferons are naturally occurring chemicals produced by cells of the immune system which can modify the body’s response to a variety of stimuli.  It has been found helpful in many MS patients.

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Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.


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