Depending on which nerves in the central nervous system (CNS) are impacted by multiple sclerosis (MS), patients may experience a wide variety of symptoms. Many early symptoms are vague and nonspecific, and people with MS may notice that their symptoms come and go, making the condition hard to diagnose.
However, the following are some of the more common MS symptoms. They result from progressive nerve degeneration and damage:
- Bladder and bowel complications — Constipation and leakage are two frequently experienced challenges. Often, they can be managed with medications, changes to diet and other steps.
- Cognitive changes — More than 50 percent of MS patients may experience unexpected difficulties with problem solving or processing and remembering information.
- Depression or mood swings — These are caused not only by changes in the immune and neurological systems but also the stress of living with MS.
- Dizziness and vertigo — Feeling lightheaded, faint, weak or woozy are common descriptions of dizziness, which may result from a variety of causes, such as fatigue or low blood pressure. Vertigo, a sensation that an individual or his or her surroundings are spinning, may occur when lesions affect the areas of the brain that control equilibrium.
- Fatigue — Eighty percent of patients with MS have debilitating fatigue, despite being well-rested.
- Gait difficulties — These include loss of balance, muscle spasticity, sensory deficit and weakness.
- Hearing loss — This affects roughly 6 percent of MS patients.
- Itching, numbness or tingling — These sensations may be felt anywhere in the body and are often the first symptoms experienced by individuals living with MS.
- Pain — MS-related pain can be described as chronic or occur as short bursts of sharp, stabbing sensations.
- Paralysis — The inability to move may result when certain nerves are damaged, but this symptom affects only a small percentage of people with MS.
- Spasticity — This symptom may include sensations of stiffness in the body, as well as involuntary spasms of the muscles. Spasticity occurs most commonly in the legs.
- Vision problems — Double vision may occur as a result of sixth nerve palsy, a disorder in which the sixth cranial nerve is damaged. Optic neuritis, which occurs when the optic nerves are damaged or inflamed, may cause blindness, flashing and pain in one eye.
- Weakness — Nerves that stimulate the muscles may be damaged, resulting in weakness. Additionally, not using muscles because of MS-related fatigue or pain may cause deconditioning that leads to weakness.
In addition, patients may experience these less common, severe symptoms:
- Breathing problems — If nerves that control the muscles in the chest are damaged by MS, problems with respiration may develop.
- Difficulty swallowing — Otherwise known as dysphagia, swallowing problems develop when the nerves that control the muscles in the mouth and throat are damaged.
- Seizures — Scarring in a certain area of the brain may cause electrical discharges that are abnormal and present as seizures.