Early Signs of Multiple Sclerosis

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Early Signs of Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the myelin sheath, or the protective protein coat around nerve fibers. This results in inflammation, which further damages the myelin sheath as well as the nerve cells themselves, and the cells that produce myelin.

There is no definitive list of the early signs of multiple sclerosis, as patients experience different symptoms based on their severity and nature. However, there are several symptoms common to the disease that may be considered early signs prior to a diagnosis. These depend on what area of the brain and/or spinal cord are affected.

Patients with MS can experience a variety of symptoms, but the most common initial ones include:

Excessive Fatigue

Mental or physical exhaustion that prevents a person from performing everyday activities.

Movement Problems

Spasticity and balance problems, coupled with muscle weakness, may make walking difficult.

Abnormal Sensations

People with MS may experience abnormal sensations like numbness, tingling, or uncontrolled itching.

Cognitive Problems

Nervous system damage can cause difficulty with thinking, reasoning, learning, and problem-solving.

Vision Problems

Optic neuritis, blurred or double vision, and sudden involuntary eye movements can occur in early MS.

Difficulty Speaking

Reduced motor skills in the mouth and tongue muscles can slur speech.

Person experiencing bowel issues

Other Symptoms

Some MS patients have reported experiencing bowel and bladder problems as well as emotional changes, including depression, anxiety, and mood swings. Other disease-specific symptoms include:

  • Dysesthesia: A burning and aching feeling or, if affecting the trunk, a “girdling” sensation across the body (popularly known as the “MS hug”).

  • Lhermitte’s sign: a sudden sensation that feels like an electric shock passing down the back of a person’s neck and into the spine, which may then radiate out into the limbs.

  • Pseudobulbar affect: a sudden burst of uncontrollable laughter or crying, often with no triggering event.

Some symptoms may worsen over time, so they may not be as apparent in the early stages of the disease. In addition, other diseases also may share some of these same symptoms, and only a medical professional, such as a neurologist specialized in nervous system disorders — and using a number of tests — can correctly diagnose MS.

Person walking illustration

There is evidence that people may experience symptoms of MS several years before they receive a definitive diagnosis. A 2018 study reported that migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and mood and anxiety disorders, in particular, may be early warning signs of MS. Determining the symptoms that preclude MS onset is important in aiding early diagnosis of the disease, and researchers are continuing to study the early effects of the disease.

Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.