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Multiple sclerosis: Going public, like Jack Osbourne, not advised

June 20, 2012|By Rene Lynch
  • Jack Osbourne spoke about his diagnosis with the autoimmune disease in an interview with People magazine. The disease affects more than 400,000 people in the United States.
Jack Osbourne spoke about his diagnosis with the autoimmune disease in… (Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images )

One multiple sclerosis expert is applauding Jack Osbourne's decision to deal with his diagnosis in public -- but she doesn't necessarily encourage patients do the same.

Even in this day and age of oversharing on social media, revealing one's medical condition could have unforeseen consequences, said clinical psychologist Dr. Rosalind Kalb of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, where she's vice president of the Professional Resource Center.

"I do not advise patients going public until they've gotten all the information they need about the implication of what the illness means," she told the Los Angeles Times.

Even then, patients might want to remain discreet.

"Discreet," of course, is probably not a word found in the Osbourne vocabulary. The family -- helmed by rocker Ozzy Osbourne and Sharon Osbourne, host of "America's Got Talent" -- have long lived in the public eye. And given the family's success in a variety of entertainment venues, it's unlikely Jack Osbourne will struggle to pay any medical bills in the future.

Noncelebrities coping with an MS diagnosis are in a far different category.

Kalb stressed that she is not in any way criticizing Jack Osbourne's handling of his diagnosis. In fact, she applauded his willingness to speak out, because he's raising much-needed awareness about the autoimmune disease. The disease affects more than 400,000 people in the United States, with symptoms ranging from simple tingling to partial paralysis and blindness.

But, she cautioned: "If you go public, it's like writing it on the side of your house for all the world to see. ... You don't know how employers and potential employers are going to react. You don't know what this could mean years down the road."

She suggests that patients work with an advocate to find out how the laws in their state might affect them and how the Americans With Disabilities Act can protect them from possible discrimination if their symptoms escalate. Until a patient is fully informed of such details, he or she should probably limit news of the diagnosis to a small, trusted circle of loved ones, Kalb says.

"Once that cat is out of the bag, so to speak, it's out there, and there's no getting it back," said the author of several books on MS, including the recently published "MS for Dummies." "Just take the time to think it all through."

Kalb said that the drawbacks of public disclosure might not be professional or economical, but social.

Say, a person is going through a period of especially severe symptoms and tells everyone about it, she said. If those symptom subside, and the person is feeling like their old selves once more, they might find that friends and relatives are still treating them like someone with full-blown MS symptoms.

"I've seen those regrets. They think, 'Why did I tell everybody? Now they all think of me as just a person with MS, and that I still have all these symptoms.' "

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

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