Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system that impedes the flow of information. This is because the immune system attacks the protective covers of nerves and causes communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body. Eventually, the disease can cause the nerves themselves to break down.
MS is the most widespread neurological condition amongst young adults internationally. The condition is two to three times more common in women than in men, and diagnosis is usually between ages 20 and 50.
Most people with MS have a “relapsing-remitting” disease course. That means they’ll experience periods of new symptoms or relapses, and then usually go into periods of remission.
Because MS affects the central nervous system, which controls all the actions in the body, signs of the condition are wide in range. Symptoms of MS differs between people and over the course of the disease, depending on the affected nerve fibers. The warning signs of MS are as follows:
Visual problems are one of the most common symptoms of MS. Inflammation disturbs the optic nerve and hinders vision. This can cause blurred vision, double vision, and partial or complete loss of vision (usually in one eye at a time). Red-green color distortion and poor contrast vision are also common. Additionally, pain when looking up or to one side can occur.
Tingling and numbness
MS affects nerves in the brain and spinal cord and therefore can send conflicting signals around the body. Sometimes no signals are sent, which can result in numbness of the face, body, or extremities (arms and legs). Additionally, patients might feel tingling or pain in various parts of the body. For example, when the neck is bent forward, unpleasant electric-shock sensations may occur.
Spasms and stiffness
Caused by damaged nerve fibers in the spinal cord and brain, chronic pain and involuntary muscle spasms are common. People with MS might experience stiff muscles and joints, and uncontrollable jerking movements. Involuntary muscle spasms can occur in any of the limbs but are most common in the legs.
Loss of balance
People with MS may feel off balance and lightheaded, or have the sensation that they or their surroundings are spinning (a condition called vertigo).
Extreme tiredness occurs in about 80 percent of people and can interfere with the ability to function in everyday life.
A person with MS might have an irregular gate, making it difficult to walk. This condition is related to several other symptoms—including weakness, spasticity, loss of balance, sensory deficit and fatigue. These problems can be helped by physical therapy and medication.
Bladder and bowel dysfunction
Occurring in up to 80 percent of people with MS, bladder and/or bowel dysfunction are very common. This can include frequent urination, strong urges to urinate or inability to hold in urine. Less often, people might experience constipation, diarrhea, or loss of bowel control.
Half of the people with MS will develop problems with their cognitive function. These issues can include memory problems, shortened attention span, language problems or difficulty staying organized. At the same time, depression and other emotional health are not uncommon.
Less common symptoms include speech problems, swallowing problems, tremors, seizures, breathing problems, itching, headaches, and hearing loss. If you or a loved one are experiencing these symptoms, consult a medical professional.