Christina Applegate's Multiple Sclerosis Battle: Lesions on Her Brain, Isolating and Living 'in Hell'

Of the disease, Christina Applegate candidly said, "I'm never gonna wake up and go, 'This is awesome.'"

Fans know Christina Applegate as an actress with a career spanning five decades, an Emmy winner, a mom, and a beloved Hollywood fixture. For the last almost three years, she's also been, as Applegate puts it herself in her X bio, a "Lady with a cool cane…"

In August 2021 at the age of 49, Applegate announced she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis -- commonly referred to as MS -- a "potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system)," according to the Mayo Clinic. "It’s been a strange journey. But I have been so supported by people that I know who also have this condition," she tweeted at the time. "It’s been a tough road. But as we all know, the road keeps going. Unless some a**hole blocks it."

It is with that signature blend of boldness, transparency and humor that Applegate, also a breast cancer survivor, has invited fans to understand more about what her life with MS has been like ever since. 

"This is the first time anyone's going to see me the way I am," she said in a New York Times interview the following year ahead of the final season of Dead to Me's premiere. "I put on 40 pounds; I can’t walk without a cane. I want people to know that I am very aware of all of that."

While she was in production of that third season of the hit Netflix series, Applegate learned of her diagnosis, finally getting an explanation for the years of mysterious on-and-off symptoms she had suffered

"My symptoms had started in the early part of 2021, and it was, like, literally just tingling on my toes," Applegate recalled in an interview with ABC's Robin Roberts. "And by the time we started shooting in the summer of that same year, I was being brought to set in a wheelchair. Like, I couldn't walk that far." The star credits fellow actress and Sweetest Thing co-star Selma Blair, who announced her own MS diagnosis in 2018, with ultimately getting tested. 

"She goes, 'You need to be checked for MS,' and I said, 'No.' I said, 'Really? The odds? The two of us from the same movie? Come on, that's not gonna be -- that doesn't happen,'" Applegate told Roberts. "She knew. If not for her, it could have been way worse."


Following a five-month hiatus on Dead to Me production, during which she received treatment, Applegate -- who had first appeared on screen at three months old -- insisted on finishing the show. According to the Times, however, it was not easy for Applegate, who needed a wheelchair to go to set, struggled with the steps to her trailer, and whose character opened doors so she could lean on them. 

"Shooting the show," she said during a remote appearance on The Kelly Clarkson Show, "was the hardest thing I'd ever done in my life."

For her first public appearance since her diagnosis, Applegate stepped out with a walking stick to accept her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. "Oh, by the way, I have a disease," she quipped during her speech. "Did you not notice? I'm not wearing shoes! Anywho, you're supposed to laugh at that."

Despite the difficulties she's faced, Applegate forged ahead into the 2023 awards season as she earned Emmy, Critics Choice, and SAG Award nominations for her final performance as Jen Harding. She stepped out, walking stick in hand, for all three. The SAG Awards were particularly special as it was potentially her final time attending as an actor. 

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"It’s my last awards show as an actor probably, so it’s kind of a big deal," she told the Los Angeles Times. "Right now, I couldn’t imagine getting up at 5 a.m. and spending 12 to 14 hours on a set; I don’t have that in me at this moment."

Following the postponement of the 2023 Emmys to January 2024, Applegate received the warmest of welcomes when she stepped out onto the stage as the first presenter that night, accompanied by host Anthony Anderson, to a standing ovation. 

"Thank you so much, oh my god. You're totally shaming me with disability by standing up, it's fine," she quipped, causing the audience to burst out into laughter. "Body not by Ozempic." 

She later told Roberts in their sit-down, "I actually kind of blacked out... People said, 'Oh, you were so funny!' And I'm like, 'I don't even know what I said.' I don't know what I was doing. I got so freaked out that I didn't even know what was happening anymore -- and I felt really beloved and it was really a beautiful thing." 

Added the actress, "I'm just gonna say this -- that audience stood up for everybody." 

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Despite offering up punchlines, Applegate has not minced words about her experience with MS. During her interview with Roberts, she said quite plainly, "I live kind of in hell."

Nearly three years after her diagnosis, Applegate also made it clear that she is still grieving her diagnosis and does not know when that will end. "I'm never gonna wake up and go, 'This is awesome.' I'm just gonna tell you that. It's just not gonna happen. I wake up and I'm reminded of it every day," she said. "...I might get to a place where I will function a little bit better." 

However, right now, Applegate is coping with the disease by isolating. "That's kinda how I'm dealing with it is by not going anywhere," she said, "because I don't want to do it. It's hard." 

As she put it, "They call it the invisible disease... It can be very lonely because it's hard to explain to people. I'm in excruciating pain, but I'm just used to it now."

In a March 2024 interview with Dax Shepard on the Armchair Expert podcast, Applegate further opened up about her MS battle, saying she's determined to stay honest about her health journey. 

"I make these jokes because if I don't, I'll suffocate. I'll be done," Applegate explained. "I'm not ready for the healing yet. I will get there. When someone says, 'Have you accepted this as your new normal?' No, f**k you, absolutely not."

Of the symptoms she experiences as a result of her diagnosis, the actress revealed, "I have 30 lesions on my brain, like, herpes sores, basically, so sores all over my brain. My biggest one is behind my right eye, so my right eye hurts a lot," she said, stating that the lesions present themselves differently in each person with MS. 

"My hand starts to go weird and then I'll get a seizure-y feeling sometimes in my brain, not all the time," Applegate said of how her body responds.

As for how Applegate is feeling, she didn't mince words. "It's the worst tattoo. It sucks. I'm not gonna sit here and… some people go, 'Oh my god, cancer's the best thing that happened to me!' And I'm like, 'Uhh, then you had a pretty s**tty life,'" she said. "This is the worst thing that's happened to me in my entire life. I hate it so much. I'm so mad about it." 

Applegate went on to explain that she can't exercise because "it hurts." She added, "The second my feet hit my carpet in the morning -- and they're hurting as bad as they do every single day -- then I go, 'F**k it, I'm just going to lay back in bed.'"

Applegate continued: 'You go push and then it pushes right on back. She is a mean girl. That's the thing that I struggle with."

Looking back at how she handled having breast cancer back in 2008, Applegate said she lied in her interview with Roberts at the time. 

"My first interview was with Robin Roberts when I had cancer and I'm sitting there lying my a** off about how I felt," she recalled. "I fell into the wall and sobbed because it was a lie. Everything I was saying was a freaking lie. It was me trying to convince myself of something, and I think that did no service to anyone."

"Yes, I started a foundation right away. Yes, I did all the things I had to do. And we raised millions of dollars for women to get MRIs who were at risk. Yes, we did a good thing, but at the back of it, I was taking off my bra and crying every night, and I wish that I had said that," Applegate continued. "I didn't like my boobies. I still don't like my boobies. It's horrible. I don't have nipples. It's weird."

Applegate underwent a double mastectomy in 2008 after undergoing two unsuccessful lumpectomies.  

Of her current state, she said, "I totally hate myself, especially now. I gained 45 pounds when I got sick from medication. I've lost 30 pounds in the last few months. Not from Ozempic. I have a stomach issue."