You may have seen that the American actress, Christina Applegate, recently revealed she has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).
The Emmy-winning actress, star of films such as Anchorman and TV series such as Married with Children and Friends revealed she was diagnosed with the condition some months ago and asked for privacy as she goes “through this thing”.
The UK’s MS Society estimate there are more than 130,000 people with MS in the UK, and that nearly 7,000 people are newly diagnosed each year.
In this guide, you’ll read about what MS is, what the symptoms are, and whether it’s covered when you buy Critical Illness cover.
What is MS?
MS is a condition that affects the brain and spinal cord. In MS, your immune system, which normally helps to fight off infections, mistakes myelin (the coating that protects your nerves) for a foreign body and attacks it.
This damages the myelin and strips it off the nerve fibres, either slightly or completely, leaving scars known as lesions or plaques. This damage disrupts the messages travelling along nerve fibres – and they can slow down, become distorted, or not get through at all.
This causes a range of symptoms including blurred vision and problems with how you move, think, and feel.
Once you have been diagnosed with MS, it stays with you for life. However, treatments and specialists can help you to manage the condition and its symptoms.
In the UK, people are most likely to find out they have MS in their thirties, forties, and fifties. It affects almost three times as many women as men.
What are the symptoms of MS?
Many people notice their first symptoms years before they get their diagnosis. The symptoms of MS vary widely from person to person and can affect any part of the body.
The main symptoms include:
- Vision problems, such as blurred vision
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Difficulty walking
- Problems controlling your bladder
- Muscle spasms
- Numbness or tingling in different parts of the body
- Problems with balance and co-ordination
- Problems with thinking, learning, and planning.
Depending on the type of MS you have, your symptoms may come and go in phases or get steadily worse over time. There are three types of MS:
- Relapsing MS – Here, you have distinct attacks of symptoms which then fade away partially or completely. Symptoms you may have had before may come back or you might get new symptoms. Around 85% of people with MS in the UK are diagnosed with this type.
- Primary progressive MS – Here, symptoms get worse over time rather than appearing as sudden attacks or relapses.
- Secondary progressive MS – Here, you have a build-up of disability independent of any relapses.
MS affects everyone differently. Even if you have the same type of MS as someone else, you probably won't experience the same symptoms in the same way.
What’s the treatment for MS?
While there is currently no cure for MS, there are several treatments that can help control the condition. The treatment that you will receive will depend on your specific symptoms and difficulties you have. It may include:
- Treating relapses with short courses of steroid medicine to speed up your recovery
- Specific treatments for individual MS symptoms
- Treatment to reduce the number of relapses using medicines called “disease-modifying therapies”.
The NHS say that disease-modifying therapies may also help to slow or reduce the overall worsening of disability for people with relapsing MS, and those with secondary progressive MS who have relapses.
At the moment, there is no treatment that can slow the progress primary progressive MS, or secondary progressive MS in the absence of relapses. Researchers are currently working on many therapies aiming to treat progressive MS.
Will I die from MS?
While people don’t die directly from MS, if you are severely affected then the risk of dying from a complication related to MS (like an infection) is larger.
The MS Society report that, over recent decades, people with MS have been living longer as medical care gets better. Research shows that, on average, people with MS have a life expectancy that's seven years shorter than the general population.
Is Multiple Sclerosis covered by my Critical Illness cover?
Yes. Most insurers include MS as one of the conditions their Critical Illness cover is designed to protect.
The definition of exactly what is needed to make a successful claim will differ from insurer to insurer. It will typically be defined as “a definite diagnosis of multiple sclerosis by a consultant neurologist which has resulted in clinical impairment of motor or sensory function”. For some insurers, the symptoms must have persisted for a long period – perhaps 6 or 12 months.
MS is typically one of the top five most common reasons for a Critical Illness cover policy paying out, after cancer, heart attack, and stroke.
Will I be able to get Critical Illness cover if I have already been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis ?
It could be tricky to find a provider that will agree to insure you for MS if you have already been diagnosed or if you have experienced symptoms.
As there is no cure for MS, the majority of insurers will usually exclude you from their policies.
If you have experienced symptoms, get in touch with one of our experts and we’ll be able to look into whether you might get the cover you need.
Get the right Critical Illness cover for you
The unpredictability of MS, coupled with the wide variety of different jobs that people do, can raise complicated issues for people in the workplace.
For example, fatigue is a common symptom of MS and could affect your work. Similarly, some activities – such as travelling or standing all day – can be very tiring.
It’s important to say that many people with MS continue to work after a diagnosis. Some will need to make appropriate adjustments to allow them to continue in their job, or they may choose to do a different job.
Critical Illness cover is designed to provide financial support in the event that you’re diagnosed with a serious and potentially life-changing condition. You’ll receive a tax-free lump sum which you can use as you wish. You might decide to:
- Take an extended period off work to focus on your treatment, and use the payout to replace income
- Pay off your mortgage or other debts so you benefit from the security this brings
- Adapt your home in whatever way you need to, in order to live more comfortably.
Receiving financial support on diagnosis of MS can be an enormous weight off your mind at what is likely to be an emotional and stressful time. You can focus on the important decisions you need to take, and your treatment, without having to worry about your mortgage or bills being paid.
As Critical Illness cover experts, we can find the right cover for you. We work with dozens of the UK’s leading insurers to find the most appropriate cover for you, at the right price.
Our comprehensive guide to Critical Illness Cover can answer may of your questions.
Of course, as well as protecting you against MS, Critical Illness cover will also pay out if you are diagnosed with a range of other serious conditions, from some cancers to illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease. It will also typically pay out if you have a serious heart attack or stroke.
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