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What are multiple sclerosis symptoms?

Learn about multiple sclerosis symptoms, treatment and management.

Multiple sclerosis symptoms include problems with vision. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Multiple sclerosis symptoms include problems with vision.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that causes the body to mistakenly attack the central nervous system, resulting in permanent scarring (also known as sclerosis). MS affects all parts of the central nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. There is no known cause for the disease, but being aware of symptoms can lead to an early diagnosis and significantly improve the quality of the patient's treatment.

Effects of Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms

The scarring that multiple sclerosis causes to the central nervous system impairs nerve function, causing affected nerves to transmit signals at a slower rate. Nerve function relating to touch, sight, coordination and strength is most commonly affected. As the disease progresses, the symptoms of multiple sclerosis can become debilitating. 

Because the symptoms of multiple sclerosis can begin suddenly, the disease can be difficult to diagnose. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, multiple sclerosis symptoms normally start between the ages of 20 and 50, and affect more than one million people worldwide, with almost a third living in the United States. While anyone can contract multiple sclerosis, the disease is known to occur more often in women than men.

Types of Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms

Multiple sclerosis symptoms vary widely because, for each patient, the central nervous system sustains damage in different areas and to different extents. Multiple sclerosis symptoms can interfere with vision, muscle coordination and strength, physical sensations and brain function. 

Multiple sclerosis symptoms connected to sight and vision include blurred vision, distorted colors (particularly red and green), eye pain and even vision loss. Doctors may also notice abnormal responses to routine eye movement tests in affected patients. 

MS can also impact motor function. Clumsiness, difficulty walking and balancing, feelings of weakness or fatigue, problems with coordination, stiffness and even paralysis are other common symptoms. MS patients can also experience uncomfortable sensations throughout the body, like numbness or prickling. 

Multiple sclerosis symptoms relating to brain function can include slurred speech and memory loss, however MS patients may have other neurological problems, including loss of bladder control, depression and trouble with concentration and judgment. In some extreme cases, they may lose the ability to talk and write.

Multiple Sclerosis Treatment

Symptoms can be long-term or can occur in fleeting attacks. Doctors can prescribe treatments that help to lessen the duration, frequency and severity of multiple sclerosis symptoms and attacks. Common treatment options include injections of beta interferons (genetically engineered proteins that help to regulate the immune system) or injections of Glatiramer or Natalizumab (drugs that prevent the immune system from attacking nerves).

Doctors also prescribe muscle relaxants and medication to stave off depression and fatigue to those with progressive MS. However, many living with the disease suffer only mild symptoms and do not require a regular course of treatment. 

If you think you may have multiple sclerosis symptoms, talk with your doctor right away. Many multiple sclerosis symptoms could point to other medical problems, so a thorough medical exam should be performed. Though there is no cure at this point for multiple sclerosis, various treatments can ease the discomfort and debilitating effects of MS symptoms.

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