Multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms can vary widely from patient to patient and from attack to attack. Each patient experiences MS symptoms differently, and with varying intensity.
No patient has the exact same symptoms as another, and symptoms change over time. Symptom management with medication, rehabilitation and other strategies is a key part of MS treatment.
As an autoimmune disease, MS is characterized by the body mistakenly using the immune system to attack healthy tissue. In the case of MS, it’s the nerves — specifically the myelin protective layer around nerves in the brain and spinal cord — that can degrade.
Nerve pain, numbness or weakness are often present with MS, but can be a sign of many other conditions.
MS strikes women far more than men, but both are susceptible to the same general symptoms. There are some symptoms of MS in women that are unique, including worsening symptoms within a week of starting your period and no period for three months or more.
MS typically doesn’t cause death directly, but recent studies have found those with MS have a life expectancy of five to 10 years shorter than the general population. With advances in the treatment of MS, that gap is narrowing.
Because the symptoms can vary so widely and may not at first appear to be related, diagnosing and treating MS is a highly specialized branch of neurology. Some patients see many medical providers over years before getting an MS diagnosis and beginning treatment under the guidance of an MS specialist or neuroimmunologist.
Norton Neuroscience Institute’s board-certified and fellowship-trained neuroimmunologists are leaders in their field. Norton Neuroscience Institute neuroimmunologists take part in clinical trials that give them extensive experience when new treatments are approved. Patients who qualify also have access to these innovative therapies.
MS symptoms can come and go and worsen very gradually. While there is no direct link between specific symptoms and MS, some symptoms are more common than others, especially as the disease progresses.
If you see some of yourself in the following MS symptoms checklist, consider speaking to your primary care physician about your concerns.
A common and very treatable MS symptom, this blurred vision and loss of color vision is the result of inflammation of the optic nerve. Steroids often are used to help accelerate recovery from optic neuritis. Optic neuritis is often one of the early signs of MS.
One of the most common MS symptoms, fatigue affects about 8 in 10 MS patients. It is one of the primary reasons MS patients leave their jobs prematurely.
Loss of feeling or a pins and needles sensation is another of the most common MS symptoms. It can be one of the first symptoms, affecting your ability to walk with confidence or use your hands to write, fasten buttons or hold objects.
A feeling that your torso is being squeezed — similar to a blood pressure cuff — can range from merely annoying to so painful it might be mistaken for a heart attack. It’s often a first symptom of MS or a relapse.
As a common mobility concern with MS, difficulty walking, or gait difficulties, can be a result of muscle tightness or spasticity, difficulty with balance that leads to swaying, severe numbness in the feet that makes it difficult to feel the floor, and weakness in the legs. Falls are common with MS patients.
Muscle spasms, tightness and pain of spasticity is most common in the legs, but can affect any extremity, joints and lower back.
The precise cause of MS is unknown, but evidence suggests that MS starts with a specific genetic makeup that leads to MS when exposed to a trigger of some sort. Research has revealed a number of MS risk factors.
There is evidence that Epstein Barr virus increases the chances of developing MS. Smoking is a risk factor, and for young adolescent women, obesity is also.
Genetics can play a role if there is MS on the father’s side of the family.
The disease is more common in white women, and they typically are diagnosed in their 20s and 30s. However, patients in their 60s may have lived with symptoms over the years but weren’t diagnosed until lesions on the myelin were revealed by an MRI. African Americans sometimes will get their first diagnosis in their 50s to 70s after decades of symptoms and misdiagnosis.
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