WELLNESS
01/21/2016 02:51 pm ET Updated Jan 22, 2016

Multiple Sclerosis, Jamie-Lynn Sigler's Autoimmune Disease, Explained

Women of Northern European decent are at an increased risk for the disease.
Alison Buck via Getty Images

In a People magazine interview on this week, Jamie-Lynn Sigler revealed that she has had multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease, for the past 15 years. 

"You'd think that after all these years, somebody would be settled with something like this." Sigler told People. "It's still hard to accept."

What is multiple sclerosis?

MS is a degenerative nervous system disease, in which the immune system attacks it's own nerve cells, slowing down messages between the brain and the rest of the body. No one knows what causes MS, but symptoms -- which differ from person to person, but typically include muscle weakness, coordination and memory problems and a tingling or electric-shock sensation -- usually start between the ages of 20 and 40, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

There are currently 400,000 people in the United States living with MS. Women are twice as likely to develop the disease as men are, and individuals from Northern European decent, especially those who live in temperate climates, including Canada, the northern United States, New Zealand, Europe and southeastern Australia are at an increased risk, according to the Mayo Clinic.

While there's no cure for MS, medication and physical and occupational therapy can help manage symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease.

Over the past decade, Sigler said her symptoms flared up, making walking long distances difficult and running impossible. "When I walk, I have to think about every single step, which is annoying and frustrating," she told People. 

Today, she describes her symptoms as manageable. "It takes a fighting attitude to deal with all this. This disease can absolutely take over your life if you let it."

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