Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a condition which can affect both the brain and the spinal cord. Damage to the myelin coating around nerve fibres in the central nervous system (CNS) interferes in the transmission of nerve signals between the brain, the spinal cord, and the rest of the body. This disruption to nerve signals is what causes the symptoms of MS.
There are a wide range of potential symptoms which include problems with arm or leg movement, vision, sensation, or balance. Symptoms of MS can vary and are unpredictable - no two people will have exactly the same symptoms, and each person’s symptoms will change, progress and fluctuate throughout time.
Although symptoms can develop at any age, MS is most commonly diagnosed in people during their 20’s or 30’s and is a lifelong condition. There is currently no cure for MS, in most cases it is possible to treat the individual symptoms.
The Most Common Symptoms Include:
Fatigue, which affects most people with MS. This can significantly interfere with a person’s work and home life
Problems controlling the bladder, another common symptom which can usually be treated with medication, fluid management and the use of self-catheterisation
Problems with vision (blurriness), which is often the first symptom of MS for many people
Cognitive changes, which refers to problems with thinking, learning and problem solving
Muscle stiffness or spasms
Problems with balance or coordination
Numbness or tingling in various parts of the body
As previously mentioned, no two persons with MS will experience the same symptoms. Therefore, there are also many symptoms which are less common.
Less Common Symptoms:
Problems with speech
Problems with swallowing
All of the above symptoms are referred to as primary symptoms. This is because they occur due to a direct result of damage to nerve fibres in the CNS.
Secondary symptoms are those which arise as a result of primary symptoms. For example:
Immobility due to muscle stiffness or difficulty walking can result in pressure sores, loss of muscle tone, poor posture or decreased bone density.
Problems with controlling the bladder can result in urinary tract infections.
Whilst secondary symptoms can be treated, it is best to avoid the occurrence of them by treating the primary symptoms as effectively as possible.
Types of MS
Symptoms of MS usually presents themselves in 1 of 2 ways: through individual relapses (known as Relapsing Remitting MS) or with gradual progression (known as Primary Progressive MS).
Relapsing Remitting MS
Around 80% of people with MS are diagnosed with this type of MS. As the name suggests, Relapsing remitting MS presents itself in episodes. A person experiencing this type of MS will have episodes of new or worsening symptoms, referred to as relapses, which typically worsen over a few days, last from days to weeks to months, and then slowly improve over a similar time frame. Such relapses are sometimes associated with stress or illness, however they often happen without warning. The periods between attacks are known as periods of remission, which can last for years at a time. After a few decades, most people with this type of MS go on to develop Secondary Progressive MS. This is where symptoms gradually worsen overtime, without periods of remission. Around 50% of people with Relapsing Remitting MS develop into Secondary Progressive MS within 15-20 years, and the risk for this increases the longer you have the condition.
Primary Progressive MS
Roughly 10% of people diagnosed with MS, start with this type of MS. Primary Progressive MS involves a gradual worsening of symptoms, without any periods of remission. This being said, some people experiencing this may have periods where their symptoms stabilise.