Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a chronic condition, marked by a number of physical and cognitive symptoms. There are no known causes of MS, however, it is characterized as an autoimmune disorder, with most symptoms affecting the central nervous symptom (or brain and spinal cord).
MS is one of the most common neurological disorders, and is usually diagnosed in early adulthood. Although there is no known cure, symptom management is key to improving the quality of life for patients living with multiple sclerosis. Here are some of the most common symptoms of MS:
1. Numbness and spasms
These symptoms are quite common in those who are experiencing relapsing multiple sclerosis, and are oftentimes the first symptoms that indicate a potential flare up. Numbness and tingling often affects the extremities, such as fingers and toes. This may present in one or several digits on either side. Muscle spasms are often described as an involuntary movement or muscle contractions, and can feel as mild as a twitch, or as severe as a cramp. They often affect the legs, however, they can also commonly be felt along the back. Once triggered, these spasms can last anywhere from days, to weeks or even months.
2. Balance issues
Oftentimes, some of the first multiple sclerosis signs to appear are in motor function and coordination. Loss of balance is one of the earliest signs that there may be something wrong. Tripping, stumbling, and falling are all common symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Balance issues associated with MS can severely hinder one’s ability to walk, climb up stairs, or perform any other mobility tasks.
3. Bladder Issues
Multiple sclerosis is a condition that affects the central nervous system, which means that one’s ability to control bladder function is oftentimes severely hindered. Incontinence (the inability to control urination) is one of the more embarrassing and troubling signs that something is wrong. Urinary incontinence will present as either stress incontinence (such as a leak brought on by a sneeze or a cough), or urge incontinence (the persistent feeling of “having to go”).
4. Cognitive issues
Commonly referred to as “brain fog,” one may feel as though they are unable to concentrate while performing everyday activities. They may forget something which was said mere minutes before, or even have difficulty registering information. Well versed individuals may find it difficult to “find the right word” when communicating with others. Cognitive issues are one of the most common symptoms in individuals with multiple sclerosis.
5. Problems with vision
Individuals with multiple sclerosis will often note vision changes as one of the first symptoms that they noticed prior to diagnosis. This can often present as blurriness, temporary color blindness, and pain or pressure behind the eyes. Vision problems do not always affect both eyes equally. Oftentimes, these symptoms will affect one eye more severely than the other. In some individuals, it may just be the single eye that is affected, with the other eye retaining normal vision. Because multiple sclerosis presents differently within every individual, it is important to note that not everyone will experience the same vision issues.
A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis is life altering and can be overwhelming. However, being able to identify these early onset symptoms is crucial to developing and implementing symptom management techniques which can greatly improve one’s quality of life.