Multiple Sclerosis, often abbreviated to MS, is so named because of the numerous sclerae, better known as scars, lesions, or plaques, that form within the nervous system. These scars generally impact the white matter found in the brain stem, optic nerve, spinal cord, and basal ganglia.
While more common in northern hemispheres, MS spreads its symptoms around the world, where it is the most frequently occurring disabling neurological condition. You can develop Multiple Sclerosis at any time in your life, but diagnosis usually comes between 20 and 50 years of age. This diagnosis usually follows a pattern of symptoms that lead to testing. The symptoms are varied from person to person and can come and go.
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For about one-quarter of the cases of Multiple Sclerosis, the first symptom a patient notices is with one of the eyes. This is known as optic neuritis. You may encounter a span of days or weeks where one eye experiences a temporary loss of vision. Color blindness is another potential form of this symptom. The affected eye may hurt, generally increasing in pain when the eye is in motion. Flashes of light may appear when moving the eye as well. You may have double vision or involuntary motions of the eyes. More rarely, this first bout of MS symptoms affects both eyes.
Among the more common and troubling symptoms of MS is a feeling of fatigue. Many patients describe this as an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion; this magnitude of weariness makes carrying out even simple activities a struggle. Fatigue can become an enormous barrier to daily life, interfering significantly with necessary activities. It generally worsens during illness, in hot weather, and as each day wanes.
With MS, your muscles can spasm, or contract in a fashion that is tight and painful, become prone to spasticity, or stiffness and resistance to movement, or simply feel weak. These muscular symptoms can inhibit normal life just as fatigue can. They may make driving a car difficult, for example, or performing tasks that require fine motor control. Simply sitting in a chair can become an unpleasant experience when muscles spasm or are spastic.
These abnormal sensations are often the first symptom of Multiple Sclerosis. This can feel like pins and needles, can be a hot sensation or one that does not seem to be particularly different in temperature, and can be found in different parts of the body. Generally, the numbness or tingling begins in the legs, arms, or trunk, and then proceeds to spread outward over the course of several days.
You may encounter two forms of pain related to the condition of Multiple Sclerosis. The first is neuropathic pain, which is caused by the MS. It can feature stabbing pains in the face. The abnormal sensations mentioned above may also be elevated past the brink of pain, causing the trunk and limbs to hurt. Muscle spasms may also be painful. When MS indirectly causes pain in the joints, neck, or back, this musculoskeletal pain is the second form. It strikes particularly in those who have difficulties with a walking gait or moving around in ways that place pressure on the hips or lower back.
Cognitive dysfunction in people with MS can cause difficulty in thinking. Messages pass more slowly about a nervous system that is scarred. This slowness can outwardly manifest in a patient needing lots of time to process information in large amounts. Multitasking can be impossible if you have MS. You may get stuck on words when you try to communicate. Reasoning, as with puzzle-solving or considering mathematical laws, can be difficult as well.
Another symptom of MS is the aspect of cognitive dysfunction that is related to difficulty in learning new things. A shorter attention span makes such learning difficult, and remembering new things can be problematic. Generally, long-term memory remains unaffected, but short-term memory can seem to be full of holes.
A final aspect of cognitive dysfunction in people with MS is the struggle to plan. Visual information, such as plotting a route on a map, can be difficult to process and understand with Multiple Sclerosis. Holding onto new plans while different aspects are shuffled about can grow easily confusing. Of course, none of these three areas of cognitive dysfunction is exclusive to MS; they can be caused by depression, anxiety, and certain medications, among other conditions.
Mental health issues are another symptom of Multiple Sclerosis. Depression is one such. It is unclear whether the depression is caused by the MS, caused by the stress of being diagnosed with a long-term debilitating condition, or some combination of the two. Regardless of the specific source of the depression, this condition brings with it difficulties of its own.
Anxiety is another such difficult-to-diagnose aspect of MS. The condition itself is unpredictable and can be an immense source of stress. This can even lead to mood changes that are rapid and severe. In some cases, there has been speculation that intense symptoms of anxiety can bring about greater intensity in the other symptoms of MS.
Multiple Sclerosis can give you difficulties in walking and moving about. This is particularly true if you also experience muscle spasticity and weakness. You may experience difficulty with coordination and balance, or ataxia, clumsiness, tremor or shaking in the limbs, or dizziness and vertigo. This last can make it seem as though the world is spinning around you.
Bladder problems are frequent symptoms of MS. You may need to urinate more often. This may come in the form of a sudden and urgent need to do so. It can lead to unintentionally passing urine, known as urge incontinence. Emptying the bladder completely may be difficult. You may need to rise often in the night to go use the facilities. You may also experience recurring bouts of UTIs, or urinary tract infections.
The bowels may also be problematic in people with MS. Constipation is the most common of these problems. Stools can be difficult to pass and may be passed much less often than is usual. Bowel incontinence is not as common but can be linked to constipation. Sometimes stool becomes stuck. There it can irritate a wall of the bowel, which causes it to produce a greater quantity of fluid and mucus. This may leak out your rectum.
One symptom of MS is dysarthria, or difficulty speaking. You may find that your speech has become slurred or otherwise difficult to understand. This tends to occur with a weakness in the muscles of the face, especially those involved in the motions of the mouth.
When such weakness strikes the muscles of the back of the mouth and throat, trouble swallowing may result. This is known as dysphagia. Chewing can also be problematic with this aspect of MS symptoms.
Multiple Sclerosis may also have an impairing effect on sexual function. Men may experience erectile dysfunction or difficulty in reaching and maintaining an erection. They may lose the ability to ejaculate as well, with that aspect either more difficult to reach or altogether impossible. Women may also have trouble reaching orgasm. Decreased vaginal lubrication is also a potential difficulty for women, as is a loss in sensation. Both men and women can experience a lower sex drive with MS.
These symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis come in the three types of MS: relapsing, remitting, and progressive. One aspect of them which makes treatment challenging and life with the condition difficult is that they do not follow any routine, predictable course. Fortunately, many who have MS do not develop severe symptoms. Some remain asymptomatic throughout their lives. Others are hit hard and fast with an onslaught of symptoms. Multiple Sclerosis remains a disease that raises many questions in its patients. Understanding the symptoms can answer some of them.
This article has not been paid for by any advertiser. This content is intended for informational and entertainment purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice or analysis.