'I didn't know what was happening': What exactly is an MS flare up?

Elizabeth Di Filippo
Selma Blair. Image via Getty Images.
Selma Blair. Image via Getty Images.

Selma Blair is continuing to shed light on what it’s like to live with multiple sclerosis.

Earlier this week the actress took to Instagram to share a photo taken during a trip to Miami this past summer. In the photo, a smiling Blair is seated on a lantern-filled patio, dressed in a brightly-coloured outfit, looking rapt in conversation.

A beautiful summer night in Miami. My flare was already hitting. I didn’t know what was happening. But I sat outside and had a gorgeous dinner with my dear friend…I remember knowing to just feel the warmth in the breeze. The gift of this trip,” the actress wrote.

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However, despite her relaxed appearance, the 46-year-old revealed the photo was taken during what’s become an eight-month-long MS flare up. She was struggling to control her body.

“Under the table my leg was dead. I couldn’t stay awake and my right hand couldn’t find my mouth,” she explained. “But I was happy.”

After her diagnosis in October 2018, Blair has been living with impaired mobility, which has worsened during her recent exacerbation, or flare up.

What is an MS flare up?

MS is a disease that causes the immune system to attack the body’s central nervous system (the brain, spinal cord and optic nerve), damaging the fatty substance that protects and surrounds nerve fibres called myelin. Damaged or destroyed nerve fibres cause messages from the central nervous system to be disrupted or stopped completely. Symptoms of MS include problems with muscle control, balance, vision and impaired speech.

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Flare ups affect people with relapsing-remitting MS, which means some people experience periods of exacerbations or flare ups in which symptoms will worsen, or new symptoms will appear.

These intense periods are marked by pain, pins-and-needles tingling, numbness, tiredness, weakness, blurred or impaired vision, followed by a period of full or partial recovery.

In a recent interview with Good Morning America, Blair revealed she had been living with MS and experiencing flares unknowingly since the birth of her son seven years ago.

The most recent exacerbation has left Blair’s speech impaired due to spasmodic dysphonia in which the neurological signals that control muscle contraction cause the vocal cords to spasm. Speech becomes broken and filled with staccato breaks, making it difficult to carry a conversation.

No one has the energy to talk when they’re in … a flare up,” Blaire told GMA jokingly. “But I do ’cause I love a camera.”

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The actress also revealed that doctors are hopeful that she’ll regain 90 per cent of her abilities within a year, once her flare up subsides.

Blair remains patient and strong during the flare up, saying she’s doing her best to focus on the present, and remain in the moment.

My son is asleep next to me. I hear his breathing. That of a tender soul, a young boy who will wake full of energy. I am going to curl up next to him,” she wrote. “Cause that is what this wonderful life can bring. The now.

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