Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that can trigger a variety of symptoms that range in severity. Some people with MS experience symptoms that gradually worsen over time while others develop symptoms that come and go, which is called relapsing and remitting.
If you suffer from MS, it’s important to monitor the changes happening within your body. An accurate description of your symptoms will allow your doctor to better understand your condition and develop an appropriate treatment plan to get your symptoms under control.
In this article we’ll outline 10 common symptoms of MS.
Numbness is usually the first symptom that people experience with MS. Numbness occurs because MS damages nerves in the central nervous system (CNS), which is the body’s messaging center. The outcome is the transmission of contradictory signals throughout the body. At times, no signals are transmitted, resulting in numbness that can affect the arms, legs, fingers and/or face.
The numbness can be minor and hardly recognizable or may be so severe that it interferes with your ability to perform day-to-day activities such as walking and holding objects. Most episodes of MS-triggered numbness disappear without treatment and don’t become irreversibly incapacitating.
Approximately 80% of individuals with MS suffer from fatigue. However, in some cases, fatigue is caused by another symptom of MS.
For instance, individuals with bladder problems may not get adequate sleep since they have to visit the bathroom a couple of times throughout the night, which interrupts their sleep cycle, thereby leading to daytime sleepiness.
Additionally, individuals with MS who experience nocturnal muscle spasms may sleep poorly, which can also lead to daytime sleepiness. MS also heightens the risk of depression, which can contribute to fatigue.
Lassitude is another form of fatigue associated with MS. Fatigue is considered lassitude if it:
- Happens daily
- Worsens over time
- Occurs in the morning, even after getting enough, restful sleep
- Disrupts daily activities
- Isn’t caused by depression or physical disability
Vision problems are another symptom that can present as the first symptom of MS. These vision problems can range from blurred vision to contrast vision to aching eye movement to loss of sight in one eye to the presence of a dark spot in the vision section.
MS leads to vision problems by either inflaming the optic nerve or damaging nerves in the pathway responsible for regulating eye movement and visual coordination. Although vision issues caused by MS can be terrifying, most are treatable, and some disappear without treatment.
MS causes muscle spasticity in the extremities, especially in the legs. Spasticity refers to muscle tightness and spontaneous muscle spasms. Below are some of the spasticity signs:
- Stiffness in or around the joints
- Lower back pain
- Painful, intense contractions in the legs and arms
- Difficulty in straightening the hips and knees after bending them
- Stiffening of the hips or knees while crossed or close together
Approximately 80% of individuals with MS suffer from bladder dysfunction. This problem develops when injury occurs to the nerves resulting in damaged nerve signaling that is essential for urinary bladder and sphincters to work properly.
Due to these injuries, the bladder can no longer hold urine for long and the volume it can store is reduced as well. Bladder dysfunction can result in symptoms including:
- Urgent and or frequent urge to urinate
- Inability to completely empty the bladder
- Inability to hold urine, resulting in urine leaks (incontinence)
- Delay in starting urination
- Frequent urination throughout the night
Dizziness and Balance Issues
Individuals with MS may feel dizzy or faint, especially when they stand up. Dizziness together with coordination and balance difficulties can lower the mobility of a person with MS. Medical practitioners usually refer to these issues as gait disturbances.
Changes in Emotional Health and Depression
MS is a difficult diagnosis to accept, given the fact that this chronic disease in unpredictable and may leave an individual with a physical disability. This may lead to depression and feelings of anxiousness in some sufferers.
The anxieties of the chronic condition can also result in mood swings, irritability, and a condition known as pseudobulbar affect characterized by episodes of unmanageable laughing and crying. Dealing with MS symptoms coupled with family or relationship challenges can make depression worse.
Additionally, MS causes emotional disturbances by damaging the nerve fibers in the brain. Further, medications that are used to treat MS may also disrupt your emotions.
MS patients often report sexual problems, including difficultly with arousal and/or reaching orgasm. MS may lower natural vaginal lubrication, making sexual activity a painful experience for women, and can also trigger sexual problems by injuring nerves within the sexual response pathways.
More than 50% of MS patients experience cognitive changes, which affects a wide array of high-level brain functions. The MS cognitive symptoms usually range from mild to moderate. However, MS patients rarely experience incapacitating cognitive problems.
Cognitive changes include difficulty in:
- Handling new information
- Understanding and recalling new information
- Remaining attentive
- Doing calculations
- Solving problems
- Storing information in an organized manner
- Correctly perceiving surroundings
Slurred Speech and Swallowing Difficulty
MS can disturb the area in the brain that is responsible for controlling speech, leading to speech difficulties, including:
- Slurred speech
- Scanning speech (long breaks between syllables or words)
- Nasal speech
Swallowing problems, known as dysphagia, is commonly reported by MS sufferers and occurs due to the impairment of the nerves that control the various small muscles available in the throat and mouth.
MS is a chronic autoimmune disorder that attacks different parts of the CNS, resulting in unpredictable physical, emotional and cognitive symptoms. The good news is that even though there is no cure for MS, a combination of prescription medications and complementary therapies can usually relieve symptoms and may even slow the progression of the disease, allowing you to lead a full and active life.
It’s important to be aware of your symptoms and consult your doctor anytime you notice something unusual so they can adjust your treatment plan as needed to effectively manage your symptoms.