Although there's no exact pattern of symptoms in MS, don't ignore these possible warning signs.

multiple sclerosisMultiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that is unpredictable and can be debilitating. It occurs when something triggers a person's immune system to attack the protective sheath that covers nerve fibers within the central nervous system, called the myelin. This interrupts communication signals to and from the brain, which can result in a variety of symptoms, ranging from numbness, pain and loss of mobility to memory problems, mood changes and fatigue.

People of any age can develop MS, but onset of the disease most often occurs between ages 20 and 40. Symptoms of the disease can vary widely, so MS may look very different from one person to the next. A person's symptoms may also change over time. Differences in symptoms depend on what area of the central nervous system is affected and how severe damage is to the nerve fibers.

Because of this, there are not necessarily early signs of the disease. Symptoms one person has may not be experienced by another. Or they may be experienced but not in the same order. Or they may occur once, never to occur again. There's no exact pattern of symptoms but any of the following symptoms may be a warning sign that you have MS:

  • Numbness, tingling or weakness in your limbs that typically occurs on one side of your body
  • Lack of coordination
  • Loss of balance
  • Unsteady gait
  • Inability to walk
  • Dizziness
  • Stiffness, spasms or tremors
  • Loss of vision, usually in one eye
  • Blurry vision
  • Pain during eye movements
  • Vertigo
  • Bowel and bladder function issues
  • Fatigue
  • Slurred speech
  • Cognitive issues
  • Mood swings
  • Sexual problems

Many of these symptoms can also be attributed to other conditions, so just having these symptoms doesn't mean you have MS. In fact, there's a good chance you don't. But if you're concerned about whether your symptoms are a sign of MS, talk to your doctor. He or she will listen to your symptoms, examine you and then may order some tests or refer you to a neurologist for further evaluation.

With MS, you may have only one of these symptoms at any given time or you may have multiple symptoms. The symptoms may come and go quickly or they may linger. Many people with MS experience periods of new or recurring symptoms, called relapses, followed by periods of remission when symptoms partially or completely improve. This is referred to as relapsing remitting MS.

Periods of remission may last months or even years, but after each relapse, your body may find it harder to repair the damage caused by the relapse, which can make your disability worse over time. That's why early treatment of MS is important – it helps to slow down the build-up of irreversible damage caused by relapses by reducing the number of relapses you experience.

Although there is no cure for MS, there are medications that help manage symptoms and stall progression of the disease. Seeing a neurologist if you have suspected symptoms of MS is one of the best things you can do because early diagnosis helps you better manage this disease.

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Date Last Reviewed: January 17, 2024

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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