By Susha Cheriyedath, MSc
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is characterized by a variety of symptoms including impaired vision and numbness. It can be challenging to compile a definitive list of signs to look out for because the same symptoms can be caused by other disorders. Moreover, MS symptoms greatly vary from one person to another, and early signs can be subjective.
While symptoms vary from patient to patient, many of the possible early signs of MS are fairly consistent among most MS patients. Below is a list of common and not-so-common signs that are sometimes observed in the early development of MS.
Feelings such as numbness or tingling in some parts of the body, such as the arms and legs, is a very common initial sign of MS.
Fatigue is one of the most common signs of MS and is often described as a feeling of exhaustion even while carrying out simple day-to-day tasks. Fatigue can significantly affect daily chores and can rapidly progress following physical exercise, exposure to hot temperatures, and during times of infection.
A common vision problem called optic neuritis is regarded as an early sign of MS. It is considered a more “concrete” sign compared to “vague” neurological signs such as tingling or numbness. Optic neuritis may cause temporary vision loss, color blindness, pain in the eye, and double vision.
Another common sign of MS is heat intolerance. Patients usually feel dizzy or uncomfortable in hot temperatures or during sunbathing. Heat intolerance can also aggravate other MS symptoms.
Muscles usually feel stiff or weak in people with MS. Muscle contractions are painful and resist movement.
MS results in two forms of pain:
- Neuropathic pain: caused by nerve damage and includes stabbing, pricking, and burning sensations in the face and limbs
- Musculoskeletal pain: sometimes causes pain in the neck, back, and joints
People with MS can find it difficult to attain balance, which can greatly affect mobility. The most common symptoms that affect mobility in MS patients include:
MS patients experience problems with thinking, memorization, and learning. Additionally, many people with MS find it hard to multitask due to shortened attention spans. MS patients are also slow to process visual information, like a map. Cognitive dysfunction is not specific to MS, however, as many other neurological conditions can cause this symptom.
Bladder problems associated with MS include frequent visits to the restroom (especially at night), urinary incontinence, and urinary tract infections.
MS affects bowel function and causes constipation and bowel incontinence.
Mental health issues
MS affects the mental health of patients and causes depression, anxiety, and sometimes rapid mood swings.
Some MS patients have slurred speech or dysarthria, while some others experience difficulty in chewing or swallowing (dysphagia).
Although it is clear that the most common early signs of MS include numbness, eye problems, and tingling, these signs and symptoms can be caused by many other disorders and are not always signs of MS. Also, not all MS patients experience the same symptoms.
Timing is a crucial factor that helps determine MS as MS signs typically last for a few days to a few weeks. Hence, it is important to be aware of the early signs of MS so that if the signs persist for days, you can inform your doctor and get the symptoms checked. As in most diseases, the earlier the diagnosis, the more effective the treatment.
Reviewed by Brandon May
Last Updated: Aug 10, 2016