As multiple sclerosis (MS) attacks the nerves, it can lead to a variety of symptoms. These symptoms, and their severity, can be different from person to person, and the ones you experience can change over time. You may also have some symptoms that are not mentioned below. The symptoms below appear to be the most common ones.
It’s also important to keep in mind that having one or more of these symptoms does not mean that you have MS. Only a healthcare provider can diagnose MS, so be sure to discuss your symptoms with him or her.
Many people with MS have problems with cognition. Symptoms may include memory loss, attention and concentration issues, difficulty processing information, trouble planning and prioritizing, and verbal fluency issues (like word recall).
People with MS may experience problems with their eyes. This happens because the optic nerve can become inflamed, or other related nerves can be damaged, resulting in potential blurred vision, loss of normal color vision, blindness in one eye, a dark spot in the field of vision, double vision, and uncontrolled eye movements or “jumping vision.”
People with MS may become more easily worn out after physical activity than usual. In addition to experiencing physical fatigue from doing simple things, people with MS may also experience mental fatigue from depression. There is also a type of fatigue called “lassitude” or “MS fatigue” that many believe to be unique to people with MS, which is generally more severe than normal fatigue. This type of fatigue may happen almost every day and could start early in the morning after a good night’s sleep. Lassitude also often worsens with heat and humidity.
High temperatures make it harder than it already is for demyelinated nerve cells to conduct electrical signals. Because of this, many people with MS may experience a temporary worsening of MS symptoms when exposed to heat or dealing with a fever. Symptoms caused by heat are typically temporary and do not cause further damage to the nerves. Once the temperature cools, even by a small amount, the symptoms usually subside.
Problems with your bowel and bladder can happen because MS lesions may block or delay nerve signals in parts of the central nervous system that control the bowel, bladder and urinary muscles. Symptoms of bladder dysfunction may include incontinence; having to urinate frequently, urgently, or at night (nocturia); and the inability to empty your bladder completely. Bowel problems may include constipation and diarrhea.
The nerve damage caused by MS may lead to issues with sexual function. This means sexual response—including arousal and orgasm—can be directly affected. Men may experience difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection, and reduced sensation or difficulty achieving ejaculation. Women may experience reduced sensation, painfully heightened sensation, or vaginal dryness. Sexual issues may also stem from other MS symptoms such as fatigue or spasticity, as well as from psychological factors relating to self-esteem and mood changes.
People with MS may feel things like sharp stabbing facial pain. Burning, aching, and tingling “pins and needles” are also common around the body. Chronic back and musculoskeletal pain may be experienced as a result of walking problems and/or muscle spasticity. If you’re experiencing pain, it’s important to identify its source with the help of your healthcare provider.
Because MS can damage the nerves in the spinal cord and brain, your muscles may become weak and ineffective. Stiff muscles and spasms, or sudden involuntary movements, also known as spasticity, are common. Trouble with walking is also common in people with MS. Many people with MS may also experience some degree of tremor, or uncontrollable shaking, which can occur in various parts of the body. Always talk to your healthcare provider if you are experiencing any pain or motor problems.
At any point in your treatment, it’s always helpful to communicate with your healthcare provider about your symptoms. Our Symptom Discussion Guide can help. Download this tool and find a variety of questions that can help you:
You can learn more about these MS symptoms here.