Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a degenerative disease that affects the central nervous system. Though incurable, symptoms can sometimes be managed and slowed through medication. Understanding the symptoms and signs of multiple sclerosis can help raise awareness of the disease and may lead to an earlier diagnosis.
Since multiple sclerosis attacks the fatty protective layer of nerves, signs of multiple sclerosis are often related to nerve function and sensation. Numbness, temporary paralysis, and tingling sensations throughout the body are common early signs of multiple sclerosis. In the early stages of the disease, these symptoms may appear quite randomly and be followed by a long period of partial or total remission, making signs of multiple sclerosis somewhat difficult to identify early in the process.
Many signs of multiple sclerosis manifest as problems with the eyes. Partial or total blindness in one eye is not uncommon, though it may come and go. Pain when eyes are moved in certain patterns may also occur. Blurry vision and doubled vision are other very common symptoms.
As the disease attacks the brain, some other symptoms may begin to become apparent. Dizzy spells, loss of balance, and decreased coordination may occur. A person with multiple sclerosis may begin to experience tremors, often in the hands and feet, that make movement and grip difficult. Pronounced fatigue is also a common sign of the disease. Walking may become difficult, and many patients with the disease must rely on canes or walkers to improve mobility.
The signs of multiple sclerosis tend to become more debilitating as the disease progresses. Many patients experience sexual disorders, as well as loss of control over bladder or bowel functions. During an MS episode, speech may become slurred and memory may be affected. The disease may have some detrimental effects on brain function; forgetfulness and an inability to focus or concentrate are not uncommon. Paralysis, particularly in the legs, sometimes occurs.
How the signs of multiple sclerosis develop may be very different from one person to the next. Some people may have only very mild or rare symptoms for many years, whereas others may suffer serious symptoms almost immediately. Those who are considered at the highest risk for the disease include people that have at least one close relative who has the condition. Women are more likely to develop MS then men, and the disease occurs more often in those of western European descent. Doctors recommend seeking tests for MS if a person has recurring episodes of body numbness, fainting spells, or coordination problems.