Multiple sclerosis, or MS, an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), attacks and scars myelin, which is the outer covering of your body’s nerve cells. When the nerve covering is damaged, communication between affected nerve cells can become distorted, delayed, or lost. Although the damage, symptoms, and progression vary greatly for each individual, MS is a chronic condition that must be managed for a lifetime.
If you are diagnosed with MS, there are many things you can do to stay as healthy and comfortable as possible for as long as possible. But first, what are the early warning signs of MS? How do you know if you should get screened by a doctor?
10 early signs of MS
Since the signs of MS can vary from person to person, you may experience different symptoms than someone else. You may have one or several. The most ten common early signs include[i]:
- Vision problems caused by inflammation of the nerves in the eye. Symptoms typically are temporary and affect one eye. You may experience blurry, washed out, or double vision. In some cases, you may experience eye pain or rapid, involuntary eye movement.
- Coordination issues affecting your ability to walk, grasp, or carry things. They may happen sporadically, and you may feel unusually off balance, clumsy, shaky, lightheaded, or dizzy.
- Weakness that can present itself as a loss of control or strength in an arm or leg. Sometimes an arm or leg can feel unusually heavy.
- Numbness and other strange sensations, such as “pins and needles,” hyper-sensitivity to touch, or, in some cases, a tightening or burning sensation that can travel down your body.
- Fatigue that is unusual or unexplained and can happen with or without physical exertion.
- Speech problems or trouble swallowing that can be very mild at first. You may notice your speech becoming slower, more deliberate, slurred, shaky, or even explosive.
- Muscle spasms that may cause you to have cramps, stiffness, or pain. Sometimes muscle spasms can cause you to limp, or your legs may lock up and stop working entirely.
- Bowel and bladder issues such as incontinence, urinary urgency or frequency, trouble urinating, or constipation.
- Sexual dysfunction that may involve libido, impotence, hyper-sensitivity, or lack of sensation.
- Cognitive issues that may affect your mental clarity, memory, concentration, or emotions.
Things you can do if you experience any of these symptoms
Don’t worry too much, too soon. The symptoms of other treatable medical conditions can mimic the signs of MS. If you are concerned about new or unusual symptoms, you should:
- Keep a record of the dates, times, and durations of your symptoms. Note what you were doing when your symptom began (such as physical exercise). Doctors look for patterns to help them diagnose if you have MS or something else.
- Find out if anyone else in your family has had multiple sclerosis. While MS is not considered a hereditary disease, family history can help the doctor with diagnosis.
- See your primary care physician to be screened. Your doctor may refer you to a neurologist for a comprehensive evaluation.
- Be patient. Give your doctors the time and opportunity to rule out other causes or diseases.
If you do have MS
The good news is that many people with MS are able to manage their symptoms and enjoy happy and productive lives with a relatively normal life span. You can help lessen the effect of your symptoms by making healthy lifestyle changes such as, maintaining a healthy diet and incorporating safe exercise habits in your routine. There are also medications and assistive devices that can help with mobility. In-home physical, speech, and occupational therapy, and assistive care services are available to help you maintain your function and quality of life and continue to live safely with comfort, independence, and dignity.