Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms Overview

What Are the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?

Symptom Puzzle
Is it MS?. Thomas Northcut / Getty Images

Multiple sclerosis symptoms are confusing and mysterious. If you are reading this, you either are having symptoms that you suspect might be multiple sclerosis (MS), or you know that you have it and are wondering if what you are experiencing is yet another way that your disease is surprising you.

MS is a complicated disease. Many of the symptoms, such as fatigue, dizziness, tremor, pain or cognitive problems, are difficult to link to MS, as they are hard to quantify and common to many other diseases.

I had all of the symptoms listed above (as well as many more) and saw at least seven or eight doctors for them over a span of 15 years before receiving my diagnosis of MS.

The list below outlines some of the major MS symptoms, but there are more than 50 symptoms that fit the bill. Fortunately, there are medications to modify the MS disease course and management strategies for the symptoms of MS. Remember, in many patients, the symptoms will remit (resolve or partially resolve) after some period of time.

Vision Problems

People with MS can experience double vision, eye discomfort and uncontrollable eye movements. Generally, eye pain is present when the eyes are moved. Inflammation of the optic nerve (optic neuritis) causes blurred vision, color confusion and even blindness in one eye.

Fifty-five percent of MS patients will have an attack of optic neuritis. In 15% of people, optic neuritis is the symptom that results in an MS diagnosis.

Read more about vision problems and multiple sclerosis:

Dizziness and Vertigo

Dizziness describes the feeling of being lightheaded or feeling faint. Vertigo is the sensation that your surroundings are spinning or the ground is rushing toward you.

In some cases, this can even cause the feeling of nausea, as if you had motion sickness.

Read more about dizziness and vertigo and multiple sclerosis:

Muscle-Related Symptoms

These include weakness, problems with coordination and loss of balance. The muscle-related symptoms most often occur in the arms and legs. At times, these symptoms may impair walking. Spasticity, which is the involuntary tightening of a muscle, can manifest as stiffness, pain or spasms.

Some may experience difficulty making small or complex movements and may notice that their hands shake when trying to pick something up, write or button their shirt. This is called "intention tremor."

Read more about muscle-related symptoms of multiple sclerosis:

Pain

Some people with MS experience pain, often in the arms and legs. Another common symptom can be a tight, painful band around the stomach or torso, which is often referred to as a “girdle sensation” or "MS hug." Facial pain can also occur.

Additionally, people with MS can experience muscle pain from trying to compensate for poor coordination or weakness.

Read more about pain and multiple sclerosis:

Fatigue

This common MS symptom may be triggered by heat (from weather or exertion) or physical activity, or it may be a more constant lack of energy. MS-related fatigue is tiredness that often does not respond to adequate sleep and rest and may last all day.

Read more about fatigue and multiple sclerosis:

Sensory Symptoms

Parasthesias, or abnormal feelings, can occur in MS. These usually take the form of numbness or tingling, usually in the arms and legs. Some people also experience a loss of sensation or an inability to feel temperature (for example, hot things may feel cold).

Read more about sensory symptoms of multiple sclerosis:

Speech-Related Symptoms

Some people with MS report having difficulty speaking, often due to slurred speech. Others struggle with understanding language. Still others “lose words” mid-sentence, or switch words or syllables when speaking. These difficulties are probably related to the cognitive symptoms discussed below.

Cognitive Symptoms

About 50% of people with MS experience cognitive difficulties, although some estimates are closer to 80%.

These symptoms are usually seen as problems with attention, memory and concentration. Some people with MS have difficulty making decisions, thinking abstractly and generalizing.

These cognitive problems are not usually severe and may not be directly noticed by the person with MS. Friends and family members are sometimes better at estimating cognitive changes than the person with MS.

Read more about cognitive symptoms and multiple sclerosis:

Mental Health Symptoms

Many MS patients (some estimate that as many as 50%) suffer from depression at some point. While this is sometimes a reaction to the effects that MS is having on their lives, often this depression is directly caused by MS itself.

Depression can also be a side effect of the interferon disease-modifying therapies (Avonex, Rebif and Betaseron).

Regardless of the cause, it is important to seek help for depression.

About 10% of MS patients also are affected by other mental illnesses, such as anxiety and paranoia. Five percent may suffer from “laughing/weeping syndrome,” also called involuntary emotional expression disorder (IEED) or pseudobulbar affect, which causes the person to experience periods of laughing or crying that are unrelated to their mood or an event.

Read more about mental health symptoms of multiple sclerosis:

Bladder and Bowel Symptoms

Dysfunction in the workings of the bladder or bowels occurs in up to 80% of people with MS. These symptoms appear as difficulty urinating (urinary hesitancy), a sudden urge to urinate (urinary urgency), or leakage of urine or loss of control of urination (frequent urination or incontinence). Bowel symptoms usually manifest as constipation, although diarrhea can also occur. Many of these types of symptoms can be managed with medications combined with modifications in diet, fluid intake and habits.

Read more about bladder and bowel symptoms of multiple sclerosis:

Sexual Dysfunction

Sexual dysfunction is estimated to affect about 80% of people with MS at some point. This symptom ranges from a lack of interest in sexual activity to a loss of sensation during sex.

Men can experience difficulty maintaining an erection, while women may not become lubricated or be able to achieve orgasm.

Read more about sexual dysfunction and multiple sclerosis:

Heat Sensitivity

In most MS patients, warm temperatures or an increase in the body’s temperature from exertion can cause a temporary worsening of MS symptoms. Things return to normal once body temperature is reduced. Cooling products, common sense and avoiding sources of heat (like steam rooms) can prevent heat-related symptoms.

Sources:

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Multiple Sclerosis: Hope Through Research. NIH Publication No. 96-75. Last updated February 09, 2007.

MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Multiple Sclerosis

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