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Know the Warning Signs of a Neurological Disorder, as Celine Dion Announces Diagnosis

“I have to admit, it's been a struggle,” Dion says.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Celine Dion has revealed her secret battle against a rare neurological disorder called stiff-person syndrome, something she says affects one out of a million people. "I've been dealing with problems with my health for a long time, and it's been really difficult for me to face these challenges and to talk about everything that I've been going through," the 54-year-old singer says. "It hurts me to tell you that I won't be ready to restart my tour in Europe in February." Dion announced the news via a very emotional social media video update, explaining that her Courage tour will be indefinitely postponed while she gets treatment.

"Unfortunately, the spasms affect every aspect of my daily life, sometimes causing difficulties when I walk and not allowing me to use my vocal cords to sing the way I'm used to," she explained in the video. "For me to reach you again, I have no choice but to concentrate on my health at this moment and I have hope that I'm on the road to recovery. This is my focus and I'm doing everything that I can to recuperate… I miss you so much. I miss seeing all of you, being on the stage, performing for you. I always give 100 percent when I do my shows, but my condition is not allowing me to give you that right now. All I know is singing. It's what I've done all my life. And it's what I love to do the most. I'm working hard with my sports medicine therapist every day to build back my strength and my ability to perform again. But I have to admit, it's been a struggle."

According to the National Institutes of Health, SPS affects twice as many women as men. 

"Stiff-person syndrome (SPS) is a rare, progressive neurological disorder. Symptoms may include stiff muscles in the trunk (torso), arms, and legs; and greater sensitivity to noise, touch, and emotional distress, which can set off muscle spasms. Over time people with SPS may develop abnormal, often hunched over postures. Some people may be too disabled to walk or move. Many fall frequently because they do not have the normal reflexes to catch themselves. This can lead to serious injuries. People with SPS may be afraid to leave the house because street noises, such as the sound of a car horn, can trigger spasms and falls." 

It is not known exactly what causes the condition, but scientists believe it is connected to an autoimmune response in the brain and spinal cord. "With appropriate treatment, SPS symptoms may be kept under control." Warning signs of neurological disorders can be easy to miss—here are the five most common disorders, plus symptoms that should never be ignored. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Alzheimer's Disease

Close up of mature woman look in distance thinking.

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that can slowly develop over years. There is no cure for Alzheimer's, but treatment is available to help with symptoms. "Alzheimer's is one of the causes of dementia primarily in the elderly," says James Leverenz, MD, neurologist for Cleveland Clinic. "Many people think of them being equivalent, in fact there are many different causes of dementia in the elderly, but certainly the most common cause is Alzheimer's disease."

Symptoms of Alzheimer's tend to get worse with time. "The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are generally mild to start with, but as more brain cells are damaged over time the symptoms get worse and start to interfere with a person's day-to-day life," says the Alzheimer's Society UK. "This makes them different from the changes that lots of people have as they get older, such as being a bit slower at thinking things through or forgetting something occasionally. For most people, the first signs of Alzheimer's are problems with their memory – in particular, difficulties recalling recent events and learning new information. This is because early on in Alzheimer's the damage is usually to a part of the brain called the hippocampus. This has a big role in day-to-day memory."

Changes in mood and personality are also symptoms of Alzheimer's. "They may become anxious, depressed or more easily annoyed. Many people lose interest in talking to people, or in activities and hobbies. These changes can be challenging for both the person with dementia and those close to them to live with."


Parkinson's Disease

Mature man sitting on sofa and holding his hand.

Parkinson's disease is a progressive neurological disorder affecting the nervous system and movement. "Many Parkinson's symptoms are related to the loss of brain neurons that produce a chemical messenger called dopamine. Loss of dopamine can lead to a variety of symptoms," says J. Eric Ahlskog, MD. "Those symptoms can vary widely from person to person. Parkinson's develops slowly over time. In the disease's early stages, symptoms may be very mild and barely noticeable. About 80 percent of people with Parkinson's have some type of tremor, or shaking, in a limb. It typically first affects a hand or fingers. Over time, Parkinson's often makes it difficult to move quickly and causes muscle stiffness, limiting a person's range of motion and sometimes causing pain. This can lead to a shuffling gait with short steps. It slows basic daily tasks, such as rising from a chair, writing or dressing. Some people with Parkinson's develop a stooped posture and feel unsteady.

"Parkinson's typically impairs a person's normal spontaneous body movements, such as blinking, smiling or swinging the arms while walking," says Dr. Ahlskog. "The loss of dopamine that happens in Parkinson's may sometimes trigger sleep disorders, panic attacks, anxiety or insomnia." There is no cure for Parkinson's, but treatment can make a huge difference to quality of life. "In most cases, the disease and its symptoms can be managed effectively, so those who have Parkinson's are able to continue engaging in active, fulfilling lives."



Sick little child girl with epileptic seizures outdoor,daughter suffering from illness with epilepsy during seizure attack

Epilepsy is a neurological condition which causes focal or generalized seizures. "Epilepsy happens as a result of abnormal electrical brain activity, also known as a seizure, kind of like an electrical storm inside your head," says pediatric neurologist Lily Wong-Kisiel, MD. "Although children or older adults are more susceptible, anyone can develop epilepsy. When epilepsy is diagnosed in older adults, it's sometimes from another neurological issue, like a stroke or a brain tumor. Other causes can be related to genetic abnormalities, prior brain infection, prenatal injuries or developmental disorders. But in about half of people with epilepsy, there's no apparent cause."

According to Dr. Wong-Kisiel, while there is no cure for epilepsy, there are medications and treatments available. "Epilepsy is a central nervous system (neurological) disorder in which brain activity becomes abnormal, causing seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations and sometimes loss of awareness. Anyone can develop epilepsy. Epilepsy affects both males and females of all races, ethnic backgrounds and ages. Seizure symptoms can vary widely. Some people with epilepsy simply stare blankly for a few seconds during a seizure, while others repeatedly twitch their arms or legs. Having a single seizure doesn't mean you have epilepsy. At least two seizures without a known trigger (unprovoked seizures) that happen at least 24 hours apart are generally required for an epilepsy diagnosis."


Multiple Sclerosis

woman doctor check-up preventive care

Multiple sclerosis is a common neurological condition that has no cure, but can be treated. "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 neurologist Oliver Tobin, MB, BCh, BAO, PhD. "And this sheath is often compared to the insulation on an electrical wire. When that covering is damaged, it exposes the actual nerve fiber, which can slow or block the signals 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. The resulting damage leaves lesions or scars, and this is where the name comes from: multiple sclerosis, multiple scars."

According to Dr. Tobin, MS can appear at any age. "Now everyone loses brain cells and spinal cord cells as they get older. But if part of the brain or spinal cord has been damaged by MS, the nerve cells in that area will die off faster than the areas around it that are normal. This happens very slowly, usually over decades and typically shows up as gradual walking difficulty happening over several years. When you read about multiple sclerosis, you may hear about different types — the most frequent being relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. And this is characterized by attacks, or relapses. 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 a 100 percent. Those symptoms include loss of vision in an eye, loss of power in an arm or leg or a rising sense of numbness in the legs. Other common symptoms associated with MS include spasms, fatigue, depression, incontinence issues, sexual dysfunction, and walking difficulties."


Headaches and Migraines

A woman suffering from stress and headache, sitting on couch massaging temples with fingers, looking at camera with painful face expression.

Headaches are one of the most common neurological disorders, and while they aren't always cause for concern, headaches that come on suddenly and don't go away should be brought to the attention of a medical professional. "The sudden onset of severe headache as well as headache associated with a fever, light sensitivity and stiff neck are all red flags of something more serious such as intracranial bleeding or meningitis," says Christina Chrisman, MD, a neuromuscular neurologist at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. "If your headaches are happening often and you find yourself taking over-the-counter pain medication frequently, this is also an indication you need medical attention."

Migraines are usually accompanied by light sensitivity, nausea and vomiting. "Some people may experience an aura with their migraine, which are a transient neurological symptoms including visual disturbances such as zig-zag lines, flashing lights, spots or vision loss, dizziness, speech problems, weakness or sensory disturbances such as tingling or numbness," says Brian Gerhardstein, MD, PhD, a neurologist at JFK University Medical Center.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan
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