What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive immune-mediated disorder. That means the system designed to keep the body healthy mistakenly attacks the parts of the body that are vital to daily functions. It damages the protective coating of neurons, which leads to a functional decline in the brain and spinal cord.
MS is a disease with unpredictable symptoms that vary in intensity. While some people suffer from fatigue and numbness, severe MS can cause paralysis, vision loss, and decreased brain function.
What are the early signs of Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune disorder that affects the central nervous system (CNS), including the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. MS can cause a wide range of symptoms that vary in severity and duration, making it a challenging disease to diagnose and manage.
However, knowing the early signs of MS can help you seek medical attention and treatment sooner, which can improve your outcomes and quality of life. In this article, we will discuss the top ten early signs of multiple sclerosis, their causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. We aim to provide you with accurate, reliable, and actionable information that can help you understand and cope with MS.
1. Vision problems
Visual problems are one of the most common symptoms of MS. The inflammation affects the optic nerve and affects central vision. This can cause blurred vision, double vision, or loss of vision.
You may not notice vision problems right away, as clear vision can slowly degenerate. Vision loss may be accompanied by pain when looking up or to the side. There are several ways to treat MS-related vision changes.
2. Tingling and numbness
Multiple Sclerosis affects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord (the body’s message center). This means that it can send conflicting signals throughout the body. Sometimes no signals are sent. When this happens, numbness occurs.
Tingling sensations and numbness is one of the most common warning signs of MS. Numbness is usually felt in the face, arms, legs, and fingers.
3. Pain and spasms
Chronic pain and involuntary muscle spasms are also common in MS. The MS Atlas, a joint project between the World Health Organization and the MS International Federation, indicates that while global data varies, between 20 and 60% of people with MS also suffer from chronic pain.
Muscle stiffness and spasms (spasticity) are also common. You may experience stiff muscles or joints, as well as painful and uncontrollable jerking movements of the extremities. It usually affects the legs, but back pain is also common.
4. Fatigue and weakness
Fatigue and weakness of uncertain origin affect approximately 80% of patients during the early stages of MS, according to the MS Atlas.
Chronic fatigue occurs when the nerves in the spinal cord break. Fatigue usually comes on suddenly and takes weeks to improve. At first, the weakness is most noticeable in the legs.
5. Balance problems and dizziness
Dizziness and problems with coordination and balance can decrease the mobility of a person with MS. Your doctor may refer to this as walking difficulties. People with MS often experience dizziness and lightheadedness or feel like everything is spinning (vertigo). These symptoms usually occur when you stand up.
6. Bowel and bladder dysfunction
A dysfunctional bladder is another symptom that occurs in up to 60% of people with MS worldwide, with higher rates in industrialized countries. This includes frequent urination, the constant need to urinate, and incontinence.
Urinary symptoms are usually treatable. Less commonly, people with MS experience constipation, diarrhea, or loss of bowel control.
7. Sexual dysfunction
Sexual arousal can also be a problem for people with MS because it originates in the central nervous system, where MS attacks.
8. Cognitive problems
Approximately half of the people with MS have some type of cognitive problem, for example:
- Memory problems.
- Reduced attention span.
- Linguistic problems.
- Difficulty organizing.
- Depression and other emotional problems are also common.
9. Changes in an emotional state
Depression is common in people with MS. The stress of MS can cause irritability, mood swings, and a condition called emotional lability, which is characterized by uncontrollable bursts of crying and laughing.
Coping with MS symptoms, along with relationship or family problems, can lead to depression and other more problematic psychological disorders.
10. Other symptoms
Not everyone with MS has the same symptoms. Different symptoms may appear in relapses or attacks. In addition to the symptoms listed above, MS can cause the following:
Uncontrollable epileptic seizures.
Is Multiple Sclerosis hereditary?
MS is not necessarily hereditary. However, according to the World Health Organization, there is a higher chance of developing the disease if you have a close relative with MS.
The general population only has a 0.1% chance of developing MS, but the chance increases to between 3.6 and 7.6% if you have a sibling or a parent with MS, according to a Swedish study, one of the studies most relevant to the topic.
Heredity is not one of the factors that determine MS. A twin has a 25% chance of having MS if her brother has the disease. While genetics is definitely a risk factor, it’s not the only one.
A doctor, probably a neurologist, will perform several tests to diagnose MS, including:
- Neurological exam: The doctor looks for deterioration in neural functions.
- Eye exam: A series of tests to assess vision and look for eye disease.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): A technique that uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to create axial images of the brain and spinal cord.
- Lumbar puncture (also called a Spinal tap): A test in which a long needle is inserted into the spinal cord to remove a sample of the fluid that circulates through the brain and spinal cord.
Doctors perform these tests to look for damage to the central nervous system in two separate areas. They must also determine the time (at least one month) between events that caused damage. In addition, these studies are used to rule out other diseases.
Multiple Sclerosis often baffles doctors because of its varying degrees of severity and the ways it affects patients. Crises can last a few weeks and then go away. However, relapses can get progressively worse, in the most unpredictable way, and present with different symptoms. Early detection can help prevent the rapid progression of MS.
There is also the possibility of misdiagnosis, especially during the early stages of the disease. According to the World Health Organization, almost a third of the world’s countries diagnose MS without using the common brain imaging system used in other parts of the world.
In the United States, a study showed that 75% of MS specialists surveyed had seen at least three misdiagnosed patients in the past 12 months. Similar studies confirmed other findings in countries such as the United Kingdom.
How to continue?
Multiple Sclerosis is a challenging disorder, but researchers have discovered many treatments that can slow its progression.
The best defense against MS is to see a doctor immediately after the first warning signs. This is extremely important if someone in your immediate family has the disease, as it is one of the key risk factors for MS.
Do not hesitate. It can make a big difference.