Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition in which the immune system attacks the central nervous system affecting the brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord. This, in turn, results in “communication problems” between the brain and body as well as nerve damage and deterioration. The early signs of MS vary greatly between patients and depend on the affected nerves and extent of damage from the disease. These early signs of MS can also come and go over months and even years, making the disease very challenging to diagnose. Many of the symptoms are also associated with more common conditions, which can further complicate pinpointing a definitive diagnosis.
Although there is currently no cure for MS, there are many treatments that can manage symptoms, increase recovery time, and influence the progression of the disease.
Because of the many available treatments, an early diagnosis is key to treating MS effectively and decreasing the chance of long-term damage from the condition.
If you are experiencing any combination of the below symptoms you may want to consult with your physician to determine whether or not you could be experiencing early signs of MS.
Early Signs of Multiple Sclerosis
As previously stated, the symptoms of MS are unpredictable and can present very differently from patient to patient. It is important to remember that no two individuals will experience the identical symptoms, and symptoms can change over time. It is possible to experience only one of the below symptoms or to experience many at once. Some of the most common early signs of the disease are detailed below.
1. Vision Problems
One of the most common early symptoms of MS is vision problems due to inflammation of the optic nerve. Impaired vision is also often one of the first symptoms experienced by patients suffering from MS. These vision problems are caused by optic neuritis, an inflammatory condition that causes damage to the optic nerve, which connects the eye and brain.
Some of the symptoms that stem from this damage include blurred vision, issues with color or contrast vision, double vision, pain from eye movement, and even a loss of vision. Typically these symptoms only affect one eye; however, in rare cases, they can occur in both eyes.
Chronic fatigue is another early warning sign of MS, affecting approximately 80 percent of patients. This fatigue often presents itself as severe exhaustion and tiredness that starts suddenly and lasts for prolonged periods of time.
This early symptom of MS is caused by damage to the nerves in the spinal column and is not relieved by sleep or rest. It can make patients feel extremely tired, even if they have not been active, and can make performing even basic daily tasks difficult. Many patients suffering from fatigue associated with MS also report being extremely tired as soon as they wake up in the morning.
3. Numbness + Tingling
Unusual sensations such as numbness and tingling are one often the first symptoms experienced by patients with MS. These symptoms are caused as MS attacks the patient’s central nervous system, which affects the messages sent from your spinal cord to your body and can even make the signals from the brain to the body completely disappear.
I woke up on July 1st, 2012 with numbness around my tailbone area that spread throughout my stomach after a few hours.
These strange sensations are typically experienced in the hands, arms, legs, and face and can include numbness, tingling, an “electric-shock-like feeling,” severe itching, and feelings of swelling or tightness.
4. Vertigo + Dizziness
Another early sign of MS is dizziness which may also be accompanied by vertigo. This dizziness typically hits patients when they stand up and can cause a lightheadedness or loss of balance. If suffering from vertigo as well, patients will feel like the entire room is moving or spinning, which can result in nausea and vomiting. Movement typically worsens these symptoms.
5. Chronic Pain + Muscle Spasms
Chronic pain, as well as muscle spasms, are also common symptoms of MS. One study found that 48 percent of individuals with MS experience chronic pain. This ongoing pain is often experienced in conjunction with involuntary muscle spasms as well as weakness. These symptoms are most often experienced in the legs or back.
6. Trouble Walking
Many people also encounter issues with walking or gait as early signs of MS. The loss of coordination that results in these issues can be related to other symptoms the disease such as dizziness, fatigue, and sensory problems. Common issues with walking include a lack of balance or issues with gait.
7. Cognitive + Emotional Changes
Since MS attacks the central nervous system, there are a variety of cognitive and emotional changes that can be warning signs of the disease. In fact, 60 percent of individuals diagnosed with the disorder experience cognitive or emotional problems.
Some of the most common cognitive symptoms associated with MS include memory problems, trouble concentrating, a lack of organization, and issues with speech. Meanwhile, emotional changes triggered by the disease can include mood swings, depression, and irritability.
Being able to find emotional support throughout this process of discovery and changes is very important. Like many of the users at MyCounterpane.com, being able to share with others throughout the emotional journey has been a great way of learning and thriving.
I quickly started doing my own research and found online forums. Talking to others affected by the disease helped me the most.
8. Bladder or Bowel Problems
According to the National MS Society, about 80% of those with MS experience bladder dysfunction. This symptom occurs because of blocked or delayed nerve signals in the central nervous system and can result in a variety of bladder-related symptoms including frequent urination, incontinence, frequent need to urinate at night, and an inability to fully empty the bladder.
Although less common than bladder dysfunction, many people with MS also experience bowel problems including diarrhea, constipation, and a lack of control over the bowels.
9. Issues with Heat
Many individuals with MS also experience heat-related problems when exercising. People with this symptom typically become tired and weak as the body warms up and may also experience issues with controlling specific parts of the body, like an arm or a leg. However, once the body temperature cools, these symptoms will most likely end.
Above, are many of the most common signs and symptoms of MS. However, since the disease is difficult to predict, there are other less common symptoms which can be indicators of the disease. Some of these less common signs of MS include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Issues with breathing
- Hearing Loss
- Speech problems
Knowing the early signs of MS is key to being diagnosed and finding a treatment plan that to ease and control symptoms of the disease. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it is important to consult with your doctor so that they can determine if MS or another condition is the underlying cause.