06 Aug What is Multiple sclerosis (MS)? What are the symptoms?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition that can affect the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of potential symptoms, including problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation, or balance. It’s a lifelong condition that can sometimes cause serious disability, although it can occasionally be mild.
In MS, it’s only the nerves in the brain and/or spine that are damaged. However because these nerves control the functions of the whole body, MS can cause a wide variety of symptoms. Most people will usually experience only a small number around the time of diagnosis and you may never experience all the possible symptoms of MS.
Symptoms vary from person to person and from day to day. This can make your MS rather unpredictable. It’s completely normal for it to take some time to adjust and adapt to this unpredictability going forward in your life.
Some of the most common symptoms around the time of diagnosis are fatigue (a kind of exhaustion which is out of all proportion to the task undertaken), unusual feelings in your skin (such as pins and needles, numbness or burning), problems with eyesight, memory and thinking problems, and walking difficulties (such as tripping, stumbling, weakness or a heavy feeling in your legs).
Other possible symptoms that can happen in MS include muscle stiffness and spasms, bladder and bowel problems, and sexual difficulties.
Many of these symptoms may be invisible to other people. This can mean you look well to others when you’re actually feeling very unwell. Sometimes it can be useful to explain to your family and friends when you’re feeling like this as it may not always be clear to them.
If you experience new symptoms, it’s important to get them checked out by your MS nurse or GP. They may be part of your MS but they could have some other cause. Like everyone else, it’s good to go for routine health tests such as for blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer screening.
I’d spent so many sleepless nights googling symptoms and what my MRI results meant that when my neurologist confirmed it was MS, I was glad I finally knew what was going on.
What’s causing these symptoms?
MS symptoms will usually correspond with the areas of your brain and spinal cord that have been damaged, although this isn’t the case for all symptoms.
Symptoms like muscle stiffness and bladder problems are linked to nerve damage in the spinal cord, whereas loss of balance or dizziness is caused by damage to an area in the back of the brain called the cerebellum which controls movement, balance, and posture.
Other symptoms, such as fatigue, are not linked to a specific area of damage in your brain or spine. Instead, fatigue is thought to be due to nerve messages from the brain and spinal cord having to cope with, and work around, the areas of damage caused by MS. It, therefore, takes more energy for your body to send and deliver these messages to other parts of the body, like the muscles in your arms and legs, causing a build-up of fatigue.