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Detecting the Early Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

Overview of Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic and progressive autoimmune disorder.(1) This means that the immune system starts mistakenly attacking the vital parts of the body; in this case, the protective coverings of the nerve cells known as myelin.(2,3) Once these protective coverings of the nerve cells get damaged, it disrupts the messaging system of the brain and the spinal cord. Due to the nature of the disease, the symptoms of MS tend to vary widely from person to person and also tend to change in severity even on a day to day basis.(4,5)

Multiple sclerosis is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system of the body, leading to the formation of scar tissue and damaging the nerve cells in the process. However, the symptoms of MS care incredibly hard to detect as they can resemble or mimic a multitude of other diseases. Furthermore, the fact that no two people with this condition experience the same symptoms further adds to the unpredictability of diagnosing multiple sclerosis.(6)

Detecting the Early Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

The symptoms of multiple sclerosis can be extremely unpredictable and can vary in severity. While many people experience numbness and fatigue, people with a severe case of the disease can lead to vision loss, paralysis, and diminished brain function.(7,8,9)

Some of the typical early-stage symptoms of multiple sclerosis include:

Here’s a closer look at these early signs of this condition.

Vision Problems

One of the most common early symptoms of multiple sclerosis is visual problems. Inflammation associated with multiple sclerosis affects the optic nerve in the brain and causes disruption in central vision. This can lead to vision problems such as double vision, blurred vision, or even loss of sight.(10)

Most people are unlikely to notice such types of vision problems right away. This is because the degeneration of clear vision is a slow process. Experiencing pain while looking from side to side or when looking up can also accompany vision loss associated with multiple sclerosis. There are many ways of coping with multiple sclerosis-related vision problems, and your doctor will be the right person to guide you on these.(11)

Bladder and Bowel Issues

Having a dysfunctional bladder is another common early symptom of multiple sclerosis. Nearly 80% of people with multiple sclerosis experience bladder and bowel dysfunction.(12) This may also include frequent urination, inability to hold in urine, and a strong urge to urinate immediately. Such urinary symptoms of multiple sclerosis are usually manageable by medications.

In some rare cases, though, people with multiple sclerosis also experience loss of bowel control, diarrhea, or constipation.

Pains and Spasms

Involuntary muscle spasms and chronic pain are common with multiple sclerosis. A study carried out by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society found that half of the people with this condition experience chronic pain.(13)

Muscle spasms or stiffness are also common early signs of multiple sclerosis. You may experience more than usual stiffness in your muscles or joints along with painful, uncontrollable movements of the extremities. The legs are particularly affected by such pain, but some people may also experience frequent back pain.

Numbness and Tingling

Multiple sclerosis has a direct effect on the nerves in the brain and spinal cord, which are the body’s primary message center. This translates to mean that it can begin sending conflicting signals to the rest of the body. In some cases, no signals may get sent, which causes numbness. Numbness and tingling sensations are some of the most common warning signs of multiple sclerosis. Numbness is usually known to affect the face, arms and legs, and fingers.

Fatigue and Weakness

Nearly 80 percent of people who are in the early stages of multiple sclerosis report experiencing unexplained fatigue and weakness.(14) In fact, unexplained fatigue is one of the most identifiable early signs of multiple sclerosis. Chronic fatigue happens because the nerves start to deteriorate in the spinal column. Typically, the onset of fatigue occurs suddenly and tends to last for several weeks before improving. This weakness is most prominent in the legs first.

Multiple sclerosis-related fatigue is entirely different from the feeling of being exhausted after a day of hard work. It usually involves a sudden loss of energy, and you may feel like you are unable to continue doing any activity after that. Fatigue can either be physical or mental or sometimes both at the same time.

Other Symptoms

Of course, not everyone with the condition will have the same symptoms. Different symptoms of multiple sclerosis may manifest during attacks or relapse3s. Apart from the symptoms mentioned above, multiple sclerosis can also be caused by:


Multiple disorder is a challenging and lifelong condition that can be managed with the right treatment. The best defense against advanced multiple sclerosis is to consult your doctor immediately after experiencing the first warning signs. This is especially important if there is a family history of the disease, as this condition is believed to have a genetic link. The earlier you consult your doctor, the better are the chances that treatment can help slow down the progression of multiple sclerosis.


  1. Ferguson, B., Matyszak, M.K., Esiri, M.M. and Perry, V.H., 1997. Axonal damage in acute multiple sclerosis lesions. Brain: a journal of neurology, 120(3), pp.393-399.
  2. Sospedra, M. and Martin, R., 2005. Immunology of multiple sclerosis. Annu. Rev. Immunol., 23, pp.683-747.
  3. Dendrou, C.A., Fugger, L. and Friese, M.A., 2015. Immunopathology of multiple sclerosis. Nature Reviews Immunology, 15(9), pp.545-558.
  4. Frohman, E.M., Racke, M.K. and Raine, C.S., 2006. Multiple sclerosis—the plaque and its pathogenesis. New England Journal of Medicine, 354(9), pp.942-955.
  5. McFarland, H.F. and Martin, R., 2007. Multiple sclerosis: a complicated picture of autoimmunity. Nature immunology, 8(9), pp.913-919.
  6. Thompson, A.J., Banwell, B.L., Barkhof, F., Carroll, W.M., Coetzee, T., Comi, G., Correale, J., Fazekas, F., Filippi, M., Freedman, M.S. and Fujihara, K., 2018. Diagnosis of multiple sclerosis: 2017 revisions of the McDonald criteria. The Lancet Neurology, 17(2), pp.162-173.
  7. Krupp, L.B., Alvarez, L.A., LaRocca, N.G. and Scheinberg, L.C., 1988. Fatigue in multiple sclerosis. Archives of neurology, 45(4), pp.435-437.
  8. Freal, J.E., Kraft, G.H. and Coryell, J.K., 1984. Symptomatic fatigue in multiple sclerosis. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation, 65(3), pp.135-138.
  9. Kister, I., Bacon, T.E., Chamot, E., Salter, A.R., Cutter, G.R., Kalina, J.T. and Herbert, J., 2013. Natural history of multiple sclerosis symptoms. International journal of MS care, 15(3), pp.146-156.
  10. Talman, L.S., Bisker, E.R., Sackel, D.J., Long Jr, D.A., Galetta, K.M., Ratchford, J.N., Lile, D.J., Farrell, S.K., Loguidice, M.J., Remington, G. and Conger, A., 2010.
  11. Longitudinal study of vision and retinal nerve fiber layer thickness in multiple sclerosis. Annals of neurology, 67(6), pp.749-760.
  12. Sakai, R.E., Feller, D.J., Galetta, K.M., Galetta, S.L. and Balcer, L.J., 2011. Vision in multiple sclerosis (ms): the story, structure-function correlations, and models for neuroprotection. Journal of neuro-ophthalmology: the official journal of the North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society, 31(4), p.362.
  13. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. 2020. Bladder Problems. [online] Available at: <http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Symptoms-Diagnosis/MS-Symptoms/Bladder-Dysfunction> [Accessed 30 July 2020].
  14. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. 2020. Pain & Itching. [online] Available at: <https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Symptoms-Diagnosis/MS-Symptoms/Pain> [Accessed 30 July 2020].
  15. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. 2020. Fatigue. [online] Available at: <http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Symptoms-Diagnosis/MS-Symptoms/Fatigue> [Accessed 30 July 2020].

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:September 3, 2021

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