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Jamie-Lynn Sigler Has Multiple Sclerosis—Here Are the Symptoms

The “Sopranos” star reveals how her condition affects her life and motherhood.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who famously played Meadow in the HBO series The Sopranos, is all grown up and talks about her multiple sclerosis diagnosis and being a mom in a new edition of the Bathroom Chronicles podcast.

"I can't give up," Sigler says. "I don't want to give up on life. I have beautiful children. I have my own dreams and aspirations." 

Sigler, 41, was diagnosed with the central nervous system disease at the age of 20.

"I think it would be really cool for my kids to witness miraculous healing, too, how they could take that throughout their life," Sigler says. "I have like my vision that I always hold onto that I try to see when I meditate or anything, and it's always just me running with them."

Sigler has two sons with husband Cutter Dykstra. She earlier said her doctor told her it was possible to become pregnant even with MS. "You can absolutely carry and you can absolutely have a very healthy pregnancy, healthy delivery," she says. "And in fact, a lot of people feel better during pregnancy. And during my first pregnancy, that was the case."

Sigler is an example of how a person can live a full life with the incurable condition. Here's what you need to know about multiple sclerosis.


What Is Multiple Sclerosis?


Multiple sclerosis is a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord, according to the Mayo Clinic.

"Multiple sclerosis is a disorder in which the body's immune system attacks the protective covering of the nerve cells in the brain, optic nerve and spinal cord, called the myelin sheath," says Dr. W. Oliver Tobin, a neurologist with the Mayo Clinic.

"This sheath is often compared to the insulation on an electrical wire," Tobin adds. "When that covering is damaged, it exposes the actual nerve fiber, which can slow or block the signal that's being transmitted within it. The nerve fibers themselves might also be damaged."

The body can repair damage to the myelin sheath, but it's not perfect, Tobin says. "The resulting damage leaves lesions or scars, and this is where the name comes from, multiple sclerosis, multiple scars."


Who's at Risk for Multiple Sclerosis?


"Women are up to three times as likely as men to have relapsing-remitting MS," Tobin says. "The risk for MS in the general population is about 0.5 percent. If a parent or sibling has it, your risk is about twice that, or about 1 percent."

MS can occur at any age, but usually appears in people between 20 and 40, he adds.

"Multiple sclerosis was thought to be a condition that primarily affected Northern Europeans, and then it was found that the further away you move from the equator, the higher is your chance of developing multiple sclerosis," says Dr. Ram Narayan, a neurologist in the multiple sclerosis program of Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix.

"Now that's not always true. There are some pockets around the equator that is also a higher incidence of multiple sclerosis. But in general, we think that the farther away you move from the equator, the higher is a chance of developing MS."

The risk of developing MS increases in people with low levels of vitamin D and low exposure to sunlight, who are overweight, who smoke and who have had viruses such as Epstein-Barr virus.


Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis


Signs and symptoms of MS vary widely among patients and depend on the location and severity of nerve fiber damage in the central nervous system, the Mayo Clinic says.

Typical symptoms of multiple sclerosis include "loss of vision in an eye, loss of power in an arm or leg, or sensory disturbance in an arm or leg lasting for more than 24 hours," Tobin says.

"Sometimes it can be really confusing when you have a patient, especially a young female patient, that comes in with tingling or numbness," says Dr. Kiren Kresa-Reahl, senior medical director of Clinical Sciences (Neurology) at Atara Biotherapeutics, a pharma company in South San Francisco, California. She adds: "If it has to do with the central nervous system, brain or spinal cord, … it'll typically affect a patient from the top down, maybe from their waist down."

People with severe MS may not be able to walk independently or at all. Others may see long periods of remission without any new symptoms, depending on which type of MS they have.

Other symptoms can include vertigo; problems with sexual, bowel and bladder function; fatigue; slurred speech; and cognitive problems and mood disturbances, the Mayo Clinic says.


Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis


There is no cure for MS but there are treatments to manage the disease.

"Symptoms of a relapse usually come on over 24 to 48 hours, last for a few days to a few weeks, and then improve, in the region of 80 to 100 percent," Tobin says.

"If you have an MS attack or relapse, your doctor may prescribe you corticosteroids to reduce or improve your symptoms," Tobin adds. "And if your attack symptoms do not respond to steroids, another option is plasmapheresis or plasma exchange, which is a treatment similar to dialysis. About 50 percent of people who do not respond to steroids have a significant improvement with a short course of plasma exchange."

Tobin says there are more than 20 medications to treat MS. "As learning to function with MS can be challenging, there are medical experts ready to work with you, to help you manage it, so you can still live a full life," he adds.


What You Can Do

mature couple jogging outdoors

Talk to your doctor about your concerns. In the meantime, adopting a healthy lifestyle can help manage the symptoms of MS. That includes remaining physically active and eating a healthy diet. 

"Mental health is also an important consideration, so keeping up personal connections with friends and family and trying to stay involved with your hobbies is important, but also be kind to yourself and realistic about what you're up for," Tobin says. "This can change from day to day, so it's OK to give yourself permission if something seems like too much or if you need to cancel plans." 

There are also support groups for people living with MS.

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