Multiple sclerosis

  • Alternative Names

    MS; Demyelinating disease


    Symptoms

    Symptoms vary, because the location and severity of each attack can be different. Episodes can last for days, weeks, or months. These episodes alternate with periods of reduced or no symptoms (remissions).

    Fever, hot baths, sun exposure, and stress can trigger or worsen attacks.

    It is common for the disease to return (relapse). However, the disease may continue to get worse without periods of remission.

    Because nerves in any part of the brain or spinal cord may be damaged, patients with multiple sclerosis can have symptoms in many parts of the body.

    Muscle symptoms:

    • Loss of balance
    • Muscle spasms
    • Numbness or abnormal sensation in any area
    • Problems moving arms or legs
    • Problems walking
    • Problems with coordination and making small movements
    • Tremor in one or more arms or legs
    • Weakness in one or more arms or legs

    Bowel and bladder symptoms:

    • Constipation and stool leakage
    • Difficulty beginning to urinate
    • Frequent need to urinate
    • Strong urge to urinate
    • Urine leakage (incontinence)

    Eye symptoms:

    • Double vision
    • Eye discomfort
    • Uncontrollable rapid eye movements
    • Vision loss (usually affects one eye at a time)

    Numbness, tingling, or pain

    • Facial pain
    • Painful muscle spasms
    • Tingling, crawling, or burning feeling in the arms and legs

    Other brain and nerve symptoms:

    • Decreased attention span, poor judgment, and memory loss
    • Difficulty reasoning and solving problems
    • Depression or feelings of sadness
    • Dizziness and balance problems
    • Hearing loss

    Sexual symptoms:

    • Problems with erections
    • Problems with vaginal lubrication

    Speech and swallowing symptoms:

    • Slurred or difficult-to-understand speech
    • Trouble chewing and swallowing

    Fatigue is a common and bothersome symptoms as MS progresses. It is often worse in the late afternoon.


    Signs and tests

    Symptoms of MS may mimic those of many other nervous system disorders. The disease is diagnosed by ruling out other conditions.

    People who have a form of MS called relapsing-remitting may have a history of at least two attacks, separated by a period of reduced or no symptoms.

    The health care provider may suspect MS if there are decreases in the function of two different parts of the central nervous system (such as abnormal reflexes) at two different times.

    A neurological exam may show reduced nerve function in one area of the body, or spread over many parts of the body. This may include:

    • Abnormal nerve reflexes
    • Decreased ability to move a part of the body
    • Decreased or abnormal sensation
    • Other loss of nervous system functions

    An eye examination may show:

    • Abnormal pupil responses
    • Changes in the visual fields or eye movements
    • Decreased visual acuity
    • Problems with the inside parts of the eye
    • Rapid eye movements triggered when the eye moves

    Tests to diagnose multiple sclerosis include:

    • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) for cerebrospinal fluid tests, including CSF oligoclonal banding
    • MRI scan of the brain and MRI scan of the spine are important to help diagnose and follow MS
    • Nerve function study (evoked potential test)