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This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.
Celine Dion is back, but she may sound different to some fans.
The Quebec-born singer announced a new song on Apr. 13, her first since sharing her Stiff Person Syndrome diagnosis last year. Stiff Person Syndrome (SPS) is an incurable and rare neurological disease that can cause severe muscle spasms.
Dion's new song, "Love Again," is the title track and one of five songs sung by the pop star in the upcoming film of the same name.
While the powerful ballad is unmistakably Celine Dion, some fans may notice a slight difference in the singer's voice, as SPS hinders her ability to perform.
In an emotional video posted to Instagram on Dec. 8, Dion said that her condition — which affects approximately one in a million people — had forced her to cancel or postpone a series of upcoming concert dates.
"I've been dealing with problems with my health for a long time, and it's been really difficult for me to face these challenges and to talk about everything that I've been going through…It hurts me to tell you that I won't be ready to restart my tour in Europe in February," Dion wrote in the post's caption.
How Stiff Person Syndrome (SPS) affects Celine Dion's singing voice
In the Instagram clip, the 55-year-old shared that SPS had affected "every aspect of [her] daily life."
"Sometimes causing difficulties when I walk and not allowing me to use my vocal cords to sing the way I'm used to...I have to admit it's been a struggle," she said.
SPS affects the muscles near Dion's vocal cords, which may impact the sounds of her voice.
Dr. Marinos Dalakas, a professor of neurology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, told CTV News that several of his patients with SPS have ongoing muscle stiffness.
"When this affects the diaphragm or affects the laryngeal muscles or the vocal cord muscles, the voice becomes very thin, it doesn't come out strong, it is fragmented," he said.
"The singers might get the stiffness more and then because the voice is so important for them the spasms are focussed more there," he told CTVNews.ca.
What is Stiff Person Syndrome (SPS)?
As per the Stiff Person Syndrome Foundation, the condition affects the central nervous system, specifically the brain and spinal cord.
People with SPS "can be disabled, wheelchair bound or bed-ridden, unable to work and care for themselves." The syndrome is characterized by muscle spasms and rigidity, severe stiffness and pain.
SPS patients also have a heightened sensitivity to stimuli such as noise, touch and emotional distress — which can set off the spasms.
While SPS is a rare disease, more people are affected than reported due to misdiagnoses. Overall, it can take up to seven years to identify.
SPS can often be mistaken for Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia, psychosomatic illness, anxiety, phobia and other autoimmune diseases.
What are the signs and symptoms of Stiff Person Syndrome?
The typical symptoms of SPS include muscle rigidity, hyper-stiffness and "spasms in muscles of the trunk, including the back and limbs." The tremors' severity is variable from episode to episode.
Moreover, the neurological disease has autoimmune features can also include "debilitating pain, chronic anxiety" and muscle spasms "so violent they can dislocate joints and even break bones."
In the early stages of SPS, spasms and stiffness may be subtle and fluctuate on a daily basis. There can be periods when symptoms seem stable, while other times they can be more noticeable and rapid.
At times, the muscle spasms may be brief, lasting minutes. However, they can also last hours or days.
Other key warning signs include changes in posture, increased stress and anxiety, and troubles breathing.
If you or someone you know if experiencing any of the above symptoms, contact your doctor or a medical professional as soon as possible.
Who is at risk of Stiff Person Syndrome?
SPS is extremely rare and affects twice as many women as men. Symptoms can occur at any age but usually develop between ages 30 and 60.
The condition is usually associated with other autoimmune diseases such as vitiligo, diabetes, pernicious anemia and thyroiditis.
As a whole, health professionals are unsure what exactly causes SPS, but some research indicates that it's the result of a faulty autoimmune response in the spinal cord and brain.
How is Stiff Person Syndrome treated?
Currently, there is no cure for SPS. Treatment focuses on pain relief and symptom management associated with muscle spasms, such as physiotherapy, a stretching and strengthening program and massage therapy.
In some patients, immunotherapy and other medications may help to reduce stiffness, pain and specific autoimmune abnormalities. That said, most people with SPS have at least some degree of disability.
If depression and anxiety is present, mental health therapy is encouraged, along with visiting a pain and chronic illness centre for regular check-ups.
Can I prevent Stiff Person Syndrome?
As scientists do not know what causes SPS, there's no surefire way to prevent the condition.
However, it's recommended that you do what you can to look after your mental and physical health through stress management, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep and eating a healthy diet.