What is multiple sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive, immune-mediated disorder. That means the system designed to keep your body healthy mistakenly attacks parts of your body that are vital to everyday function. The protective coverings of nerve cells are damaged, which leads to diminished function in the brain and spinal cord.
MS is a disease with unpredictable symptoms that can vary in intensity. While some people experience fatigue and numbness, severe cases of MS can cause paralysis, vision loss, and diminished brain function.
Common early signs of multiple sclerosis (MS) include:
- vision problems
- tingling and numbness
- pains and spasms
- weakness or fatigue
- balance problems or dizziness
- bladder issues
- sexual dysfunction
- cognitive problems
1. Vision problems
Visual problems are one of the most common symptoms of MS. Inflammation affects the optic nerve and disrupts central vision. This can cause blurred vision, double vision, or loss of vision.
You may not notice the vision problems immediately, as degeneration of clear vision can be slow. Pain when you look up or to one side also can accompany vision loss. There are variety of ways to cope with MS-related vision changes.
2. Tingling and numbness
MS affects nerves in the brain and spinal cord (the body’s message center). This means it can send conflicting signals around the body. Sometimes, no signals are sent. This results in numbness.
Tingling sensations and numbness are one of the most common warning signs of MS. Common sites of numbness include the face, arms, legs, and fingers.
3. Pain and spasms
Chronic pain and involuntary muscle spasms are also common with MS. One study, according to the National MS Society, showed that half of people with MS had chronic pain.
Muscle stiffness or spasms (spasticity) are also common. You might experience stiff muscles or joints as well as uncontrollable, painful jerking movements of the extremities. The legs are most often affected, but back pain is also common.
4. Fatigue and weakness
Unexplained fatigue and weakness affect about 80 percent of people in the early stages of MS.
Chronic fatigue occurs when nerves deteriorate in the spinal column. Usually, the fatigue appears suddenly and lasts for weeks before improving. The weakness is most noticeable in the legs at first.
5. Balance problems and dizziness
Dizziness and problems with coordination and balance can decrease the mobility of someone with MS. Your doctor may refer to these as problems with your gait. People with MS often feel lightheaded, dizzy, or as if their surroundings are spinning (vertigo). This symptom often occurs when you stand up.
6. Bladder and bowel dysfunction
A dysfunctional bladder is another symptom occurring in up to 80 percent of people with MS. This can include frequent urination, strong urges to urinate, or inability to hold in urine.
Urinary-related symptoms are often manageable. Less often, people with MS experience constipation, diarrhea, or loss of bowel control.
7. Sexual dysfunction
Sexual arousal can also be a problem for people with MS because it begins in the central nervous system — where MS attacks.