Multiple Sclerosis, more commonly known as MS, is a lifelong medical condition. It is an autoimmune condition which affects the brain and spinal cord and can cause a vast range of different symptoms.
In this article, we will go into more detail about the various symptoms you may develop with MS. For more information about the condition as a whole, take a look at our in-depth article which covers all areas. Also, don't forget to read our article on other common medical conditions.
What Causes the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?
With multiple sclerosis, the immune system mistakenly attacks a healthy part of the body. This is the outer layer protecting the nerves called the myelin sheath. This can cause damage and scars to the sheath and even potentially the nerves underneath. This means that the nerves do not work as they should. As a result, the messages that are passed along them can be slowed or disrupted.
Where this damage occurs within your nervous system is entirely personal to your condition. Therefore there is a wide range of MS symptoms. Symptoms occur as a result of the damage to different parts of the nervous system, leading to the development of various symptoms.
While this means that MS can cause many effects to your body, it can also make it harder to initially recognise the condition. This is because it has very similar symptoms to many other illnesses. Symptoms can develop in any order and vary hugely in severity from almost unnoticeable to very disabling.
Most Common MS Symptoms
Even though an array of symptoms can develop as a result of multiple sclerosis, there are some symptoms which are more commonly seen in patients with the conditions.
Fatigue is one of the most prevalent symptoms of MS. As described by the MS Trust, it is a kind of exhaustion which is out of all proportion to the task undertaken. This is very different to the tiredness people without MS may experience. Many people with the condition describe this fatigue as an overwhelming, often sudden onset and that it infringes on all aspects of daily life.
According to the MS Trust, fatigue is one of the major causes for people with MS having to reduce their working hours or even completely stop working. This can be one of the more challenging symptoms of the condition as it is ‘invisible' to those around you. They may struggle to understand the severity. Fatigue can also lead to cognitive symptoms, such as the struggle with concentration and word finding. As a result, it can be challenging for people to describe and explain how they are feeling.
The cause of this symptom is not adequately understood. However, it is thought that fatigue could fall into two categories due to different factors:
- Primary Fatigue – This is as a result of the condition itself. As the body has to work harder and use more energy to cope with the areas of damage that the MS has caused, this can result in a build-up of exhaustion.
- Secondary Fatigue – This would be a result of the effects of living with multiple sclerosis. Depression, pain, and interrupted sleep can all contribute to feelings of fatigue.
Thinking and Memory Problems
Cognitive problems, including issues with thinking, learning, concentrating and planning, are very common with MS. According to the MS Trust, around half of the people with MS are believed to struggle with cognitive problems. These can be quite mild or more severe, and are often known to fluctuate from day to day. Cognitive problems are usually caused due to medication side effects or as a result of other symptoms like fatigue.
An example of these symptoms would be:
- Issues learning new things.
- Short attention span/trouble multitasking.
- Brain fog - this can be where you struggle to find the correct words and process information as you used to.
- Difficulty problem solving or reasoning, such as solving puzzles.
Some people may put down feeling these symptoms to stress or just being tired. As a result, they often miss that it can be a symptom of MS. On the other hand, as many of these symptoms aren’t specific, they could be caused by a wide range of other conditions. If you are concerned about any symptoms you may be experiencing which are linked with MS, always go and see your doctor.
According to the NHS, around one in four cases of multiple sclerosis begin with vision problems. However, these symptoms may also be something that develop if you have been diagnosed with MS for a more extended period. Many different eye conditions may improve as a result of MS including:
- Optic Neuritis – This is a common eye problem that can cause blind spots and areas of poor vision surrounded by areas of normal vision. It usually occurs in one eye only.
- Double vision (diplopia) – MS can cause damage to the nerve pathways that control eye movements. As a result, your eyes can become unaligned, causing double vision.
- Nystagmus – This is where your eyes flick rapidly side to side or up and down. This may be due to nerve damage to parts of the brain or the optic nerve in people with MS.
The NHS recommends that everyone should have their eyes tested routinely at least once every two years. Many sight problems can be treated when caught early and opticians can help in diagnosing MS.
Multiple sclerosis can cause your muscles to weaken and spasm, and this can contribute to various mobility problems. People with MS may start to notice that they are tripping or stumbling more frequently and are becoming quite unsteady on their feet. The intensity at which MS affects mobility will vary from person to person. Sometimes mobility issues may be unrelated to MS. If you feel that you are experiencing any issues it always best to consult a health professional.
Because MS damages the nerves, it can alter how they function. As a result, you may experience weakness or spasms in your muscles. Nerve damage can also mean you lose some feeling in your limbs. Often these issues will affect the legs. Some people also experience mobility issues as a side effect of other symptoms, such as fatigue or impaired vision.
Other Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
There are some other symptoms of MS, including:
- Numbness and tingling.
- Depression and anxiety.
- Sexual problems.
- Bladder and bowel problems.
- Speech and swallowing difficulties.
There are two different types of multiple sclerosis. Symptoms will present differently depending on the type. With relapsing and remitting MS, the condition will come in phases of days to weeks to months. In this time, symptoms will worsen - known as a relapse - and then improve. After many years some people with this type of MS will go on to develop a progressive form of MS.
With primary progressive MS symptoms will gradually worsen over several years and there will be no periods of remission. Symptoms may stabilise for a time before getting worse again.
There are lots of different symptoms that can be associated with MS. However, some of them can be related to other conditions. If you are ever concerned about health issues you should always consult your doctor.
Personal Alarm Service
Our personal alarm service has been designed to help people who suffer from long-term medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis. As mentioned above, those with MS can suffer from spasms and weakened muscles, which increases the risk of a fall or accident in the home. Having an alarm gives you access to our 24/7 Response Team, which means you will always be able to call for help in an emergency.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on 30th March 2022 to reflect current information.