Want to know more about MS symptoms?
Visit the National MS Society website. Make an appointment to see your doctor if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) can be unpredictable. No two people dealing with it will experience MS in quite the same way. Fortunately, MS is not a fatal disease. The life expectancy of a person diagnosed with MS is about the same as it is for the general population. But it can affect overall quality of life for the person coping with it—from dealing with pain and fatigue to experiencing dizziness and vision problems. With no known cause or cure yet, treatments focus on slowing the progress of MS and managing its symptoms so they are less disruptive to one’s life. With support and care, a person with MS can expect to live a long and fulfilling life at home.
MS is a chronic neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system. The central nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord. Nerve fibers or axons in the central nervous system are surrounded by an insulation layer called myelin, which allows nerve signals to travel properly. With MS, the myelin is destroyed causing inflammation along the nerve. This disrupts transmission of messages communicating a desired action from the brain, through the spinal cord, to various parts of the body.
Inflammation produced by MS damages the axons themselves and can cause permanent loss of function. In the process, the cells that produce myelin also can be damaged, limiting the brain’s ability to repair damaged myelin. This is a lot like having a frayed electrical cord. The insulation ensures that electricity running along the wire reaches its destination without short-circuiting. In MS, when a similar short-circuit occurs, it can cause problems with vision, coordination, sensation in the limbs, and other symptoms.
How severe MS is and how it will progress varies by individual. To assist in managing MS, it is divided into four classifications:
Relapsing-remitting: With this type, clearly defined attacks last from a few days to weeks. You can expect either full recovery or partial recovery with remaining neurological symptoms and deficits. There’s stability between relapses when the disease is not progressing. By far, this is the most common form of the disease.
Secondary-progressive: This type starts as relapsing-remitting and progresses consistently. Occasional relapses and minor remission are experienced and deficits are accumulated without recovery between attacks.
Primary-progressive: The level of disability progresses from the onset without any distinct relapses. You may experience some minor, temporary improvements.
Progressive-relapsing: This is characterized by a distinct progression of disability level from the onset, including distinct acute relapses that may or may not include memory.
A person with MS typically experiences some but not all of these symptoms: fatigue, weakness, spasticity, balance problems, bladder and bowel problems, numbness, vision loss, tremors, vertigo, and depression.
If a group of people with MS came together to discuss the disease, you’d find that no two would have exactly the same symptoms and complaints—and none would experience all of the symptoms. Some would describe their symptoms as persistent, while others would say theirs appear in episodes from time to time.
The nature of the symptoms that occur is determined by the location of the lesion within the central nervous system. For example: blurred vision would be caused by an optic nerve lesion, whereas a spinal cord lesion may result in balance and coordination problems.