Multiple sclerosis symptoms vary widely, and a description of "typical" symptoms is difficult. All the symptoms involve changes in neurologic functioning, but there are striking differences among patients in the type, severity, and frequency of these symptoms. Different disease patterns such as relapsing-remitting (RR), primary-progressive (PP), secondary-progressive (SP), and progressive-relapsing (PR) classify the condition according to the development and progression of symptoms over time. Relapsing-remitting (RR) multiple sclerosis is the most common type, in which symptoms (exacerbations of the condition) are followed by periods of time with reduced or no symptoms. These relatively symptom-free periods, known as remissions, can last for days or for many years.
Some cases of multiple sclerosis are so mild that the condition is difficult to diagnose. In other cases, there is a gradual decline in functioning through the years. In very rare cases, symptoms can be so severe and rapidly progressing as to be fatal within a short time (known as malignant or fulminant MS). Symptoms can be related to one body part or may involve multiple areas of the body. They may be of short duration or may persist for a long time. Some symptoms of multiple sclerosis are mild and cause inconvenience; others may be severe and debilitating.
Visual disturbances can be the first sign of MS. The vision changes can include blurred vision, distortions, or loss of vision in one eye. The vision symptoms can be accompanied by eye pain. Other symptoms can include tingling, numbness, prickling pain, or muscle spasms in the arms and legs that may occur at one or multiple sites. Weakness in the arm and leg muscles may occur, and this can sometimes affect balance and posture, causing clumsiness or lack of coordination. Other symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, difficulties with speech, tremors, heat intolerance, and loss of sensation. Sexual dysfunction and loss of bladder or bowel control can develop in more serious cases.
Mental changes can also occur as symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Memory loss, decreased ability to concentrate, attention deficits, an inability to perform sequential tasks, and changes in judgment have all been reported. Depression, mania, paranoia, and uncontrollable urges to laugh or weep are other symptoms that have been described.
Summary of Common MS Symptoms by MedicineNet Staff
A review of our Patient Comments indicated that many people with multiple sclerosis (MS) have similar symptoms. Many patients said that they were in their 40s when their symptoms began. Optic neuritis was often the first MS symptom that people experienced. Initial symptoms also included numbness in the arms, feet, hands, and face, coupled with fatigue, dizziness, and difficulty walking. Several people also reported losing their balance and falling down, while others mentioned feeling a prickly heat sensation in their legs. Read on to learn more about MS symptoms in our Patient Comments.