It’s easy to shrug off feeling exhausted every day because you’re working too many hours or staying up too late watching Netflix. Weakness in your hands might make you think you’ve just spent too many hours scrolling your iPhone for new posts to retweet. That’s probably why many patients with initial symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) may head to their doctor with no expectation of what they’re about to hear.
“They’re thinking it could be an infection or some other mild medical complaint,” says neurologist Michelle Fabian, MD, of the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Then a diagnosis of MS takes them by surprise.”
It can be even more surprising if you’re not totally sure what MS is. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system. To put it simply, MS damages the brain’s ability to initiate and coordinate movements. (Learn more about how MS affects the body here.)
To make the diagnosis even more complex, each MS patient may present slightly different symptoms due to the way their lesions have formed, according to Dr. Fabian. Not surprisingly, these varying symptoms can be misdiagnosed as everything from carpal tunnel or vitamin B12 deficiency in the beginning (just to name a couple); and a patient may have MS for years before being diagnosed with it.
Even though many of these symptoms are not exclusive to MS, here are the common MS symptoms to be aware of.
Fatigue, which affects about 80 percent of patients
Difficulty walking due to numbness or loss of balance
Numbness in the face, arms, and legs
Vision problems such as double vision or blurriness in one or both eyes
Muscle spasms or stiffness, especially in the legs
Dizziness or loss of balance
Bladder and bowel dysfunction
Weakness in the arms and legs, making everyday movements like walking up stairs or brushing their hair more difficult
Cognitive fatigue, affecting the patient’s ability to focus, problem solve, or learn new information
Thankfully, an MS diagnosis isn’t the same as it used to be 30 years ago when treatment options were far more limited and less effective. Newer treatment for MS can address symptoms and reduce or prevent the progression of the disease. Find out how comprehensive treatment for multiple sclerosis has changed patients’ lives here.