7 Strange and Unusual Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

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by Patricia Silva PhD |

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unusual symptoms of MS

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that is unique to each patient, meaning that no two people experience the exact same disease manifestations. While there are common symptoms that many MS patients share, such as pain and chronic fatigue, some may experience more unusual symptoms.

Seven of the less common symptoms of this disease are described below.

Issues with speech

Some MS patients can experience issues with speech articulation, such as slurred speech and problems with getting words out. Slurring, referred to as dysarthria, and a hoarse voice (dysphonia) have been reported in people with MS. Patients may also experience changes in their speech pattern, with long pauses between words or individual syllables of words.

These symptoms may result from MS lesions in parts of the brain that control speech and also from weakness and/or lack of coordination of the muscles in the mouth, tongue, and lips due to damage of the nerves that control these muscles. Dysphonia may be linked to weakness in the diaphragm.

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Swallowing problems

Swallowing problems, known as dysphagia, and speech difficulties in MS often go hand-in-hand given that, to some extent, the same muscles are involved in these two tasks. MS patients can experience a feeling of food stuck in the throat, or a choking sensation when eating or drinking.

Some medications also can cause oral dryness, which can make swallowing difficult. Swallowing problems can be particularly troublesome in severe cases of MS, because of the risk of aspirating food or fluids into the lungs, leading to aspiration pneumonia.

Breathing problems and the ‘MS hug’

Breathing problems are very unusual in MS, especially in early stages of the disease. But they can occur in advanced and more serious MS cases, as the muscles responsible for breathing, like those involved in speaking and swallowing, can be affected.

The “MS hug” is a symptom that patients describe as a feeling of pressure around the chest, like being squeezed. It is not thought to be directly related to problems in breathing, but to a sensory feeling caused by spasms in the muscles between the ribs. The pain associated with the “MS hug” can, at times, be so intense that patients have difficulty breathing or fear they are having a heart attack.

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Of note, breathing problems can also occur as a result of aspiration pneumonia. Furthermore, some medications — such as muscle relaxants, tranquilizers, and opioid analgesics — can depress breathing, and the use of these therapies should be carefully monitored in patients with a clinical history of respiratory or swallowing problems.

Tremors, body twitches

While twitching and tremor are common symptoms in other diseases of the central nervous system, such as Parkinson’s, they are not generally considered common in MS. Tremor is an involuntary movement of the body, such as those in limbs or head.

MS patients usually report twitching in their limbs, but also in their heads, torso, and even in their vocal cords. Tremor in MS is thought to be caused by damage in nerve areas responsible for movement coordination. It can also be triggered by some medications.

Seizures

Seizures result from sudden, uncontrolled, and abnormal electrical discharges in the brain. They can cause changes in a person’s behavior, movements, and levels of consciousness. Seizures are uncommon in MS, with an estimated incidence of 2% to 5% compared with 3% in the general population. Close to 70% of seizures that occur in MS are focal, arising from a localized brain region rather than the whole brain.

Why seizures seem slightly more common in MS than in the general population is not clear, but it has been suggested that lesions in the brain caused by the disease may be a trigger. Seizures usually can be controlled through appropriate anticonvulsant medications and continuous monitoring.

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Hearing loss

Hearing loss is another unusual symptom in MS patients, with an estimated 6% of patients experiencing impaired hearing. Hearing loss is thought to be associated with damage to the hearing nerve pathways. Deafness due to MS is exceedingly rare.

Pruritis, itching

Pruritis is characterized by abnormal sensations, such as “pins and needles,” burning, or tearing pain. These sensations are known as dysesthesias, a type of chronic pain, and they are considered to be of neurologic origin — meaning they do not respond to topical treatments such as those used in allergic reactions.

Itching in MS is caused by damage to nerves in the skin, or to nerves that send signals from the skin to the brain.

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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 another 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.

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