An autoimmune disease, multiple sclerosis (MS) results when the body’s immune system starts to attack and destroy myelin, the protecting coating on nerve fibers in the brain and/or spinal cord of the central nervous system. Attacks on the myelin sheath cause it to become inflamed in small patches (called plaques or lesions), and the inflammation disrupts messages traveling along the nerves, slowing and even blocking them. This loss of effective nerve communication leads to disease symptoms.
While a number of symptoms are common to MS patients, their severity and nature can vary widely. Each MS patient is believed to be affected differently.
The most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis include:
• Fatigue, an intense feeling of tiredness often accompanied by a loss of the urge and ability to work or do daily tasks. This is a major reason for the long-term employment difficulties reported by people with MS. Fatigue is a common multiple sclerosis symptom, found in 80% of all cases.
• Numbness and tingling of the face, body, arms and legs. Numbness is often an early MS symptom, often reported prior to an MS diagnosis. Facial muscle twitching and trigeminal neuralgia have also been reported in patients.
• Muscle spasms, causing stiffness in muscles of the limbs and most involuntary muscles.
• Walking difficulties are a result of fatigue, spasticity (muscle tightness and resistance to movement), loss of the sense of balance, and a deficit in sensory nerve impulses.
• Bladder problems are also found in almost 80% of MS patients. Bladder dysfunction in MS can range from frequent urination to urinary incontinence, an inability to fully empty the bladder, and urinary infections.
• Lightheadedness, dizziness, and vertigo.
• Bowel problems. Constipation is the most common symptom here, and bladder incontinence, while less common, is associated with constipation.
• Pain, either neuropathic or musculoskeletal, has been reported by patients. One study found 50% to 55% of patients had either “clinically significant” chronic or occasional pain as a result of the disease.
• Vision problems can also be an early disease symptom, and include blurred vision, double vision, temporary loss of vision, eye pain (especially when moving the eye), or color blindness. (Optical neuritis, due to damage to the optic nerve, is a complication of MS.)
• Cognitive changes, such as problems with thinking or reasoning, learning, problem-solving, and planning, are among the range of high-level brain functions affected by the disease.
• Sexual problems, including erectile dysfunction in men.
• Emotional changes, including depression, anxiety, and mood swings.
Some of the less common symptoms of MS include slurred or slow speech, tremors (uncontrolled shaking) , dysphagia (swallowing problems), uncontrolled itching (sensations of being stabbed or pricked by needles), hearing loss, and headache.
Multiple sclerosis is a lifelong condition, but it is possible in most cases to address symptoms with treatments that range from medications to physical therapy or assisted therapy. Again, disease symptoms and their severity vary widely among people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Read more about multiple sclerosis diagnosis.
Note: 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.