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Jack Osbourne, 26, reveals multiple sclerosis: What it means

June 18, 2012|By Rene Lynch

Jack Osbourne has revealed that he has multiple sclerosis, an incurable and unpredictable disease that attacks the central nervous system.

The offspring of rocker Ozzy Osbourne and "America's Got Talent" judge Sharon Osbourne said the diagnosis came just as life was soaring with new joys. Osbourne, 26, and his fiancee recently welcomed a baby girl, Pearl.

"While I was waiting for the final results, I got really, really angry," he told Hello! magazine. "Then I got really sad for about two days, and after that I realized: Being angry and upset is not going to do anything at this point, if anything it's only going to make it worse ...  'adapt and overcome' is my new motto."

With the diagnosis, Osbourne puts a public face on a disease that affects more than 400,000 people in the United States and 2.5 million worldwide, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

MS is an autoimmune disease in which the body's own immune system turns on the body, specifically the brain, causing a sort of short circuit of the nervous system. Most people diagnosed with MS are between the ages of 20 and 50, according to the society. Experts say a diagnosis can be tricky.

"MS can present in a huge variety of ways -- that’s what makes it particularly difficult to diagnose," said Dr. Jonathan Howard, a neurologist at New York University Langone Medical Center's Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center.

He told the Los Angeles Times that typical symptoms are motor-skill disruptions such as weakness or clumsiness, numbness and tingling, and  vision loss. Diagnosis often comes after an MRI of the brain and spinal cord, and perhaps a spinal tap.

He said one of the biggest challenges that patients face is the uncertainty that accompanies such a diagnosis. There can be a 30-year-old patient who needs a wheelchair, or a 70-year-old patient whose only symptom is tingling now and again.

"The psychological aspect of 'what's next' is a huge sort of problem," he said. "Patients with MS don’t always know what tomorrow is going to bring."

Howard said there are a handful of medications for treating MS, including powerful injections and pills. But the side effects can be severe. "I am constantly asking myself: 'What do I fear more, the medicine or the disease?'"

Osbourne has many reasons to be optimistic about his future, said Dr. Timothy Coetzee, the chief research officer for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

For one, more treatments are available today than ever before. And many people diagnosed with the illness go on to live long, active lives. Partial paralysis is possible, but it's unlikely. Even other more-common side effects, such as vision loss and fatigue, are not a certainty.

"The majority of people with MS have a normal or near-normal life expectancy and don't become severely disabled," he said. "The good news is that we are getting better at managing the symptoms and addressing the quality of life issues."

The cause of MS is unknown, although some suspect a combination of causes, such as a particular genetic makeup combined with an exposure to a virus or bacteria.

Coetzee said MS research is focused on three fronts: genetic research to stop the disease altogether, finding ways to stop the disease from progressing, and then restoring and reversing the brain damage that occurs.

He applauded Osbourne's upbeat attitude. "That's what we encourage. You adapt, you overcome, you look forward, not backwards."

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Join Rene Lynch on Google+ or Twitter. Email: rene.lynch@latimes.com


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