10 Symptoms That Could Be MS

by Lisa Emrich Patient Advocate

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system with symptoms that can affect almost anything from head to toes. The disease is so variable that no two people with MS are likely to have exactly the same combination of symptoms. As MS symptoms mimic dozens of other conditions, it is important to consider that these symptoms are not exclusive to MS.

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Numbness and tingling

Tingling and numbness are very common symptoms of multiple sclerosis. However, they can happen to anyone. If this is a frequently recurring problem or appears to be persistent, you may want to consult a doctor. It might not be MS — the tingling might signal a muscle problem, unrelated nerve issue, or something else — but it is worth getting checked out nonetheless!

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Optic neuritis

Optic neuritis (ON) is caused by inflammation of the nerves in the eye. ON is estimated to affect over 50 percent of MS patients at one time or another and is the first symptom in about 20 percent of patients. ON can cause blurriness, double vision, diminished color perception, or blindness, and often causes severe pain behind the eye upon movement.

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Fatigue

Fatigue is a common symptom of many conditions, but it is one of the hallmark symptoms of MS. Fatigue affects about 80 percent of people living with MS and can severely affect quality of life, interfering with employment, social obligations, and quality time with friends and family. Fatigue may develop on its own or be aggravated by other MS symptoms, such as insomnia, bladder dysfunction, or depression.

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Strange feelings in the arms or legs

Weakness, fatigue, or clumsiness in the arms or legs are not uncommon symptoms for someone who has yet to be diagnosed with MS. Tingling, loss of sensation, itchiness, sensitivity to touch, and weird sensations — such as feeling like water is dripping on your skin, a feather is tickling your face, or an ant just bit your foot — may occur.

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Muscle weakness

Do your legs feel like they weigh a ton when you walk or are you having difficulty doing seemingly simple tasks due to muscle weakness? These could be signs that nerve signals from the brain are not making it all the way to the muscles to get them to “fire” efficiently. If you experience unexplained muscle weakness, you should consult with your doctor.

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Poor coordination

In some cases of MS, strange limb movement when walking or a subtle lack of balance could be initial signs that something is wrong. Patients with poor coordination may have difficulty walking straight, lose balance easily, or have difficulty managing stairs. Lack of coordination is a common symptom of MS.

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L’Hermitte's sign

Also known as the “barber chair sign,’” L’Hermitte’s sign feels like an electrical sensation that shoots down the spine and into the limbs. It can be quite shocking or as subtle as tingling in the finger tips. It is often more noticeable when the neck is bent forward but may happen when the cervical spine is manipulated in any direction. L’Hermitte’s sign may be caused by MS and is a symptom that may come and go as the body heals itself.

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Spasticity

Spasticity describes increased tone and contraction in one’s muscles. It can lead to muscle spasms, extreme stiffness, and difficulty bending or straightening limbs. Spasticity is very common symptom among people with MS and can interfere with normal movement and breathing. Spasticity may also contribute to the MS hug for some people.

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Incontinence or constipation

Bladder and bowel dysfunction are common problems for people with multiple sclerosis and can affect those with mild or severe disease progression. Any changes in bladder or bowel function should be discussed with your doctor, because potential causes range from a treatable bladder infection, neurological disease such as MS, or cancer.

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Other symptoms

There are a number of other symptoms that could indicate MS, including pain, dizziness, tremors, facial pain, muscle spasms, strange smells, altered taste, as well as difficulty speaking and/or swallowing. If these symptoms become persistent or bothersome, please consult your physician.

Lisa Emrich
Meet Our Writer
Lisa Emrich

Living with multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid Arthritis, Lisa Emrich is an award-winning, passionate patient advocate, health writer, classical musician, and backroad cyclist. Her stories inspire others to live better and stay active. Lisa is author of the blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers. Lisa frequently works with organizations in support of better policies, patient-centered research, and research funding. Lisa serves on HealthCentral’s Health Advocates Advisory Board, and is a Social Ambassador for the MSHealthCentral Facebook page.