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What are the early warning signs of Multiple Sclerosis?

Medically reviewed by Sally Chao, MD. Last updated on Oct 8, 2020.

Official Answer

by Drugs.com

The two symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) that are often the first ones patients experience are numbness or tingling and vision issues. However, much like the disease itself, the early warning signs of MS are highly unpredictable. No two people with MS will have the exact same symptoms or experience them in the same order.

Early signs of multiple sclerosis

For some, early signs of MS may include tingling and weakness in the arms and legs, as well as bladder problems or trouble walking. The challenge is that the early symptoms of numbness and weakness may appear vague, and they can be easily confused with other conditions.

For others, eye pain and vision problems may occur in the early stages and may stand out as more prominent early signs of MS. Not everyone with MS will experience vision problems, and people with MS may have eye problems at any point in their disease progression, but it can often be a more specific and early indicator for MS.

Common multiple sclerosis symptoms

While no combination of these symptoms definitively indicates MS, these are some of the more common symptoms, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society:

  • Fatigue (severe and with no apparent cause)
  • Numbness or tingling in your face, limbs or body
  • Spasticity (stiffness and muscle spasms)
  • Weakness
  • Vision issues (blurred vision, eye pain, dim vision and loss of color vision)
  • Dizziness (feeling lightheaded, a loss of balance and sometimes vertigo)
  • Bladder problems (needing to urinate more frequently or urgently, having trouble holding in urination and not being able to fully empty your bladder)
  • Bowel problems (constipation and the loss of bowel control)
  • Sexual problems
  • Pain and itching
  • Problems with memory and thinking
  • Difficulty walking (often caused by other symptoms like weakness, dizziness and spasticity problems)
  • Cognitive changes
  • Emotional changes
  • Depression

Many MS symptoms can be managed with the help of medication and physical therapy. You can work with your healthcare providers to come up with a symptom management plan for your individualized case.

What is multiple sclerosis?

MS is a chronic disease that impairs your central nervous system. With MS, your immune system mistakenly attacks a substance called myelin that surrounds nerve cells in your brain, spinal cord and optic nerve of the eye. Over time, the attacks lead to scar tissue. This damage, or scarring, disrupts important messages in the brain, spinal cord and eye that support movement and many other functions. What causes MS is still unknown, but it is likely due to a variety of environmental and genetic factors.

There are more than 2.3 million people diagnosed with MS worldwide, and nearly one million people are living with MS in the United States. MS can occur at any age, but most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50 years old. It is three times more common in women than men.

Most people with MS do not become severely disabled. There is still no cure, but there are many medication options that can prevent the disease from harming new areas of your nervous system, reduce the frequency and intensity of attacks and delay disability. The average life expectancy of MS patients is around seven years less than the general population, so MS patients can have a normal or close to normal life expectancy.

Diagnosing MS requires a variety of strategies, as there is no single test to diagnose it. Still, it’s important to consult your healthcare provider if you think you have MS because an early diagnosis and treatment can help delay permanent nerve damage.

References
  1. Rush University Medical Center. Early Signs of MS. Available at: https://www.rush.edu/health-wellness/discover-health/early-signs-multiple-sclerosis. [Accessed August 11, 2020].
  2. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Symptoms & Diagnosis. Available at: https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Symptoms-Diagnosis. [Accessed August 11, 2020].
  3. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. What is MS? Available at: https://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS. [Accessed August 11, 2020].

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