There are currently more than 2.5 million reported cases of multiple sclerosis around the world with around 130,000 of those being in the United Kingdom. At the time of writing, it’s estimated that a further 7000 cases are being diagnosed each year in the UK and many of these are among women, who seem to be more commonly affected.
Much to the surprise of many people, there is currently no known cause of MS but it can cause a range of unpleasant or even debilitating symptoms. Getting a diagnosis as early as possible allows you to receive the right treatment and get the best control over your condition.
But the signs of multiple sclerosis can vary between individuals so we’ve put together a handy list of things you can watch out for.
What Is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis, more commonly referred to as MS, is a condition that affects the central nervous system. This includes your brain, the spinal cord and the optic nerves.
It is not currently known what triggers MS although the NHS reports that the condition occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the central nervous system. When this happens, the protective layer that covers the nerves, known as the myelin, is damaged and this prevents signals being sent to and from your brain.
When these signals cannot be sent, it can result in a variety of symptoms. These vary drastically between patients. While we will discuss some of the symptoms in more detail later on, you might experience things like mood changes, pain, blindness, tingling and fatigue. Any of these symptoms could be temporary or long lasting; each case is very different.
Signs That You May Have Multiple Sclerosis
Understanding that there may be a chance you could be suffering from MS can be a scary concept. However, it’s really important that we arm ourselves with knowledge in order to manage our health. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the symptoms you might experience in the early stages of the condition.
Common Symptoms Of MS
Some people find that the common symptoms of MS tend to come and go whereas others develop them and they get progressively worse. In any case, these are some of the most commonly reported symptoms.
For every 10 people that suffer from MS, as many as 8 report that they suffer with weakness or fatigue. This can be debilitating and can interrupt their ability to continue with normal activities.
Numbness And Tingling
Often one of the first symptoms to develop is tingling or a loss of sensation in various places in the body. However, most commonly, people experience this in the face or limbs.
The nerves that allow you to use your muscles to walk can often be affected by multiple sclerosis which means that a lot of patients find it difficult to walk. This can be exacerbated when the individual also has problems with balance and coordination or fatigue.
MS is known to affect the optic nerve and this can result in you having problems with your vision. The issues could vary including blurriness, difficult seeing colours and even pain.
Many sufferers of MS find that they have difficulty controlling their bowel and bladder. While this can be a very distressing symptom, it’s also one that can be easily controlled using medications and lifestyle changes.
Sometimes, multiple sclerosis can cause a person to feel unusually dizzy or lightheaded. There are other cases where the patient may suffer from vertigo although this is not as common.
With MS, patients may experience problems with muscle spasms or stiffness. More often than not, you’ll find this happens in the lower limbs.
It is not uncommon for people with MS to suffer with low mood, depression and other emotional issues. This can be because of the changes within the brain but sometimes it is a result of the stress of handling their condition.
Decreased Cognitive Ability
In around half of all MS cases, people experience changes to their cognitive abilities in a negative capacity. This may include things like a decreased ability to process information, memory loss, an inability to remain focussed or problems with perception.
For a lot of MS sufferers, pain is a real problem. This is caused by the damage that your nervous system has received and may result in muscle pain, stabbing pains in the face, pins and needles and other unpleasant sensations. A lot of people also have musculoskeletal pain in the lower back, neck and hips.
Decreased Sexual Function
Some people with MS find that their sexual function is reduced. This may be a loss of libido (interest in sex) or an inability to perform sexually. In males, this might mean taking longer to ejaculate or not being able to ejaculate at all. In females, reaching orgasm may take longer and the natural lubrication from the glands inside the vagina may not be as easily produced.
Rarer Symptoms Of MS
The symptoms in the previous sections are experienced by a large number of MS patients. However, as with any condition, there are some symptoms that are less common.
Problems Swallowing And Speaking
You may notice that you begin to slur your words or the tone of your voice changes, typically getting lower. This is generally down to damage to the nerves in the mouth and can also result in problems swallowing, especially when the throat muscles are also affected.
Damage to the hearing only affects around 6% of people with MS but it happens nonetheless. In cases where this happens, it’s usually one of the first things that people notice or seek help for.
In some rare cases, people with MS may experience seizures. This is because the condition can cause scarring to the brain which may result in electrical discharges becoming abnormal. In addition to this, and more commonly, the patient may experience tremors or shaking.
The muscles in the chest can become damaged or weak as a result of MS which can result in difficult breathing.
When To See A Doctor
Many of the symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis could be confused with other conditions. What’s more, a lot of them, especially when experienced as a single symptom, may be mistaken for general ill health or ageing.
However, seeking attention from a doctor will allow you to discuss the pattern of your symptoms which will help your GP to determine whether MS is the cause. If they do believe that it’s possible you have the condition, you will be referred to a neurologist for further testing.
MS is a common condition that affects more than 2.5 million people around the world. While some of the symptoms can be very distressing and even put a stop to your normal function, they can be managed.
But in order to effectively manage MS, you first need a diagnosis. Looking out for the symptoms we have discussed in this guide is the best place to start.