What are the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS)?
The symptoms of MS vary greatly, as does their severity, depending on the areas of the central nervous system that are affected. Most people suffer minor effects. The disease can, however, completely disable a person, preventing him or her from speaking and walking in the most extreme cases. The bodily functions that are commonly affected by MS are: vision, coordination, strength, sensation, speech and swallowing, bladder and bowel control, sexuality and cognitive function (thinking, concentration and short-term memory).
A varying degree of dysfunction may occur within these areas. For instance, one person may suffer blurred vision while another may suffer double vision. Or one person may suffer from tremors while another will experience clumsiness of a particular limb.
Specific symptoms associated with MS can include:
- Fatigue: a debilitating kind of general fatigue that is unpredictable and out of proportion to the activity; fatigue is one of the most common (and one of the most troubling) symptoms of MS.
- Cognitive function: short-term memory problems and difficulty concentrating and thinking, typically not severe enough to seriously interfere with daily functioning, although sometimes it does. Judgment and reasoning may also be affected.
- Visual disturbances: blurring of vision, double vision (diplopia), optic neuritis, involuntary rapid eye movement and (rarely) total loss of sight.
- Balance and coordination problems: loss of balance, tremor, unstable walking (ataxia), dizziness (vertigo), clumsiness of a limb and lack of coordination.
- Weakness: usually in the legs.
- Spasticity: altered muscle tone can produce spasms or muscle stiffness, which can affect mobility and walking.
- Altered sensation: tingling, numbness (paresthesia), a burning feeling in an area of the body or other indefinable sensations.
- Abnormal speech: slowing of speech, slurring of words and changes in rhythm of speech.
- Difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia).
- Bladder and bowel problems: the need to urinate frequently and/or urgently, incomplete emptying or emptying at inappropriate times, constipation and loss of bowel control.
- Sexuality and intimacy: impotence, diminished arousal and loss of sensation.
- Pain: facial pain and muscle pains.
- Sensitivity to heat: this often causes symptoms to get worse temporarily.
Though these are some of the symptoms commonly associated with MS, not all people with MS will experience all of them. Each case is unique. Most people with MS begin experiencing symptoms between the ages of 20 and 50, and most will experience more than one symptom. But initial symptoms may be vague, may come and go with no pattern or may be attributed to other factors or conditions.