Selma Blair sheds light on multiple sclerosis, but here's what you don't know

It is estimated that multiple sclerosis affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide, according to the National MS Society, and naturally, celebrities are not immune — ANYONE can develop the disease.

Selma Blair, best known for her roles in "Cruel Intentions," "The Sweetest Thing" and "Hellboy," has been in the news recently after discovering she has multiple sclerosis, following years of symptoms that went misdiagnosed.

She’s not the first celebrity to help raise awareness about the disease. Others who have been diagnosed and revealed their diagnosis to the world include:

  • Jack Osbourne, the son of heavy metal rocker Ozzy Osbourne.
  • Jamie-Lynn Sigler, actress best known for her role as Meadow Soprano on the HBO series "The Sopranos."
  • Clay Walker, country music artist best known for songs "This Woman and This Man" and "Live Until I die," among many others.
  • Richard Pryor, actor and comedian who starred in many films.
  • Rachel Miner, retired actress who starred in "Guiding Light" and "Supernatural," among others.
  • Montel Williams, TV personality, actor and radio talk show host. He is best known for hosting the daytime talk show "The Montel Williams Show."
  • Ann Romney, wife of Sen. Mitt Romney.

Each of these people has had a unique story to tell when it comes to the disease and its effects.

Blair, a well-known actress and mother of a 7-year-old boy, is the most recent to tell her brave story.

“My neurologist said, ‘This will bring a lot of awareness because no one has the energy to talk when they’re in a flare-up,'” she said.

Because MS causes damage to the central nervous system — made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves — almost any function can be affected. Symptoms are unpredictable and can be vastly different in type and severity from one person to another. They can include but are not limited to: vision disturbances, loss of balance, numbness, poor coordination, slurred speech, tremors, overwhelming fatigue, problems with memory and concentration, paralysis, blindness and much more.

Anyone who has seen Blair on the red carpet or in interviews has likely witnessed the glitzy cane she's sporting or the significant quiver in her voice -- both of which were brought on by MS.

Blair has been vocal about the fact that she suffered from her MS symptoms for years before finally getting her diagnosis. 

“(I’m happy) being able to just put out what being in the middle of an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis is like,” Blair said.

We’re talking years of suffering. That seems surprising, doesn’t it? But it’s actually very common.

MS can be incredibly difficult to diagnose, and it is one of many illnesses that can affect the central nervous system, so ruling out other conditions is necessary.

Some of those conditions include:

  • Brain tumors.
  • Genetic disorders.
  • Deficiencies.
  • Inflammatory disorders of the central nervous system.
  • Infections of the central nervous system.
  • Damage to the brain or spinal cord.
  • Other non-MS demyelinating disorders.

Each of the above conditions is just the parent of other problems to sort through.

“I had tears. They weren’t tears of panic. They were tears of knowing I now had to give in to a body that had loss of control, and there was some relief in that,” Blair said of learning of her diagnosis. “Ever since my son was born, I was in an MS flare-up and didn’t know. I was giving it everything to make it seem normal.”

There is no single lab test yet that can detect or rule out MS, but an MRI is the best help doctors have in reaching a definitive diagnosis.

They then must determine which type of MS the patient has: primary progressive, secondary progressive, relapse-remitting and clinically isolated syndrome. Yet there’s still no way of knowing how each person’s disease will progress.

The cause of MS is still unknown, and there is currently no cure.

There are, however, medications that have proven to delay progression of disability to some degree by reducing the number of relapses, and different types of therapies and technological advances are helping to manage symptoms.

While an MS diagnosis used to mean a much shorter life expectancy, the time frame for those suffering from MS has increased by quite a lot, with treatment breakthroughs, improved health care and lifestyle changes. Recent research indicates, however, that people with MS may live an average of about seven years less than others due to complications or other medical conditions, according to the National MS Society.

“We never know what kills us, but this is not the doctor telling me I’m dying,” Blair said.