Jamie-Lynn Sigler: “I have Multiple Sclerosis”

Actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler did her first public interview on the Today show this morning to discuss the recent revelation that she has had multiple sclerosis for the past 15 years!

The 34-year old, best known for her role as Meadow Soprano on The Sopranos, told Matt Lauer that it felt good to acknowledge that she had the disease.

“I feel relief…. I lived with this secret that caused me to have so many feelings of shame and guilt and fear for so many years, so I think to finally sort of feel like I’m claiming my power back and being confident with the person that I am, I feel a great weight off my shoulders.”

Sigler said that she was diagnosed at the age of 20, when she experienced “heaviness” and tingling in her legs. She went through a long period of remission after her first episode with the disease, but the disease again “reared its ugly head” about 10 years ago.

Shortly after her diagnosis, she spoke to an industry insider who advised her to keep the diagnosis secret, as it might jeopardize her career as an actress. After a while, she did confide in some of her Sopranos co-stars, including James Gandolfini, whom Siegler told People, “was very aware and protective in general, but especially after I told him. He was really awesome about it.”

Currently Sigler is dealing with some weakness on her right side, and problems with coordination. As she told People:

“I can’t walk for a long period of time without resting. I cannot run. No superhero roles for me. Stairs? I can do them but they’re not the easiest. When I walk, I have to think about every single step, which is annoying and frustrating.”

Sigler has been treated with a wide variety of MS drugs, including injections and infusions. For the past six years, she has been on the medication, Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate), which has stabilized her symptoms.

Asked her why she was now coming forward, she told People “I’m at a point in my life with my son [2-yr-old Beau], with my new marriage [to pro baseball player Cutter Dykstra] , it’s a new me. I don’t want to hold a secret where it feels like I have something to be ashamed of or have something to hide. It’s part of me, but it’s not who I am.”

She went on to tell Lauer:

“I didn’t want to bring my son up in a home where he felt like he had to hold this secret for me, too. I wanted to be an example of strength and show him that despite what I have or my limitations, that everyone is deserving of opportunity and love and respect. Sometimes, we have to work a little bit harder but maybe it will be a good example for him.”

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

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, which explains the name multiple sclerosis.

The scar tissue causes nerve impulses traveling anywhere to or from the brain and spinal cord to be disrupted, resulting in a person displaying symptoms.

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.

What are the Symptoms of MS?

Most people experience their first symptoms of MS between the ages of 20 and 40.

  • The initial symptom of MS is often blurred or double vision, red-green color distortion, or even blindness in one eye.
  • Most MS patients experience muscle weakness in their extremities and difficulty with coordination and balance.  These symptoms may be severe enough to impair walking or even standing.
  • In the worst cases, MS can produce partial or complete paralysis.
  • Most people with MS also exhibit paresthesias– temporary abnormal sensory feelings such as numbness, prickling, or “pins and needles” sensations.  Some may also experience pain.
  • Speech impediments, tremors, and dizziness are other frequent complaints.
  • Occasionally, people with MS have hearing loss.
  • Approximately half of all people with MS experience cognitive impairments such as difficulties with concentration, attention, memory, and poor judgment, but such symptoms are usually mild and are frequently overlooked.  Depression is another common feature of MS.

The most common course of the disease is the relapsing-remitting type, which is characterized by unpredictable attacks (relapses) followed by periods of relative remission with no new signs of disease activity.

After some years, many of the people who have this subtype begin to experience neurological decline without acute relapses. When this happens it is called secondary progressive multiple sclerosis.

How is MS treated?

There is currently no cure for multiple sclerosis, however there are currently eight disease-modifying medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in relapsing forms of MS.

Disease modifying medications have been shown to:

  • Reduce the frequency and severity of clinical attacks (also called relapses or exacerbations)
  • Reduce the accumulation of lesions(damaged or active disease areas) within the brain and spinal cord
  • Appear to slow down the accumulation of disability

As many of these medications may have side-effects associated with them, the decision to use them must be made between a patient and their physician.

You can learn more specifics about these drugs in an excellent brochure by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society by clicking here.

What is Tecfidera?

Tecfidera® is an oral therapy contained in capsules taken two times per day. Although its exact mechanism of action is not known, Tecfidera is thought to inhibit immune cells and molecules, and may have anti-oxidant properties that could be protective against damage to the brain and spinal cord. In 2013, the FDA approved Tecfidera for the treatment of relapsing-remitting MS. The most common side effects were transient flushing and gastrointestinal tract irritation.

 

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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