Multiple sclerosis is often referred to as a silent disease or an invisible disability because many people with this condition look no different than those without this condition. Also, symptoms associated with this condition are not visible
It is also one of the most widespread and disabling neurological condition in young adults all over the world. Multiple sclerosis can develop at any age but most are diagnosed in their 20s and 30s but it can be diagnosed in younger and older people.
Definition of Multiple Sclerosis:
MS is a disease that affects the nerves in the brain and the spinal cord.
Sclerosis means scarring and refers to the damage in the nerves. Multiple is added because the damages can happen in more than one place.
It is also an autoimmune disease or a condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks the body.
It’s nearly three times more common in women than in men.
Multiple sclerosis isn’t infectious or contagious. MS is not inherited but family history can put family members at a slightly higher risk of getting the condition. It is also a life-long condition but it is not a terminal illness.
Signs and Symptoms:
Multiple sclerosis symptoms are variable and unpredictable. No two people have exactly the same symptoms, and each person’s symptoms can change or fluctuate over time.
This symptom is one of the most common and troublesome signs of MS. It is often described as an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion that makes it very difficult to carry out even the simplest of daily activities.
The fatigue tends to gets worse towards the end of each day, in hot temperatures, after exercise, or during an illness. It also makes the muscles become weak, slow thinking, and sleepiness sets in. Fatigue caused by MS involves a sudden loss of energy that greatly hinders a person from continuing with any activity. In addition, it can be either physical or mental fatigue or both at the same time.
MS fatigue occurs in about 80% of people with this condition.
The nerve messages from the brain to the spinal cord has to navigate through the areas where damage has been caused by MS. As a result, more energy is used to send and deliver messages to other parts of the body. This causes a buildup of fatigue.
2. Walking difficulties and balance problems
These symptoms are initially caused by slowed or altered nerve conduction. This makes the muscles feel weak or suffer stiffness (spasticity).
Instructions or messages from the brain to the legs and sensory feedback from the rest of the body can be impaired. This makes coordinating muscle movements harder and would need more concentration.
Around one in five people report experiencing balance problems as one of the first symptoms of MS. While seven out of ten people have balance issues during the course of their condition.
Furthermore, many people with MS also report experiencing some difficulties with walking. Stumbling or tripping are some of the first signs they have noticed.
Foot drop may also be experienced by some people with MS. A foot drop is caused by a disruption in the nerve pathway between the legs and the brain. This disruption makes it difficult to lift the front foot to the correct angle while walking. As a result, the foot hangs down and may drag along the ground and cause trips and falls.
Some people with MS have more trouble walking when they try to do other things at the same time.
Walking problems are common with MS. However, there could be other underlying causes, so it is important to get medical advice from a health professional.
3. Altered sensation
Feeling pins and needles, burning or crawling sensations, numbness, temperature sensitivity, and tingling are sensations that are common in multiple sclerosis. These are called altered sensations.
Altered sensations can happen in any part of the body. It is most common in the face, body, arms, or legs. Numbness in these areas is often the first symptom experienced by those who are later on diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Also, altered sensations may also occur in the genital area. It may occur on just one side of the body or on both sides.
Although they may seem to be coming from the skin, they are, in fact, a type of nerve pain (neuropathic pain). The damage caused by MS to the nerves in the brain and spinal cord disrupts messages passing through the nerves in the central nervous system.
Furthermore, since the normal transmission of messages to the brain gets disrupted, the brain can’t interpret them properly. To deal with the signals received, the brain will try to relate them to something the body has experienced before.
These sensations may go away completely without treatment or they may return occasionally. If they become persistent, treating them may become difficult. In case altered sensations become debilitating, doctors may suggest medications to treat them.
Just like altered sensation, pain is the direct result of damage caused by MS to the covering of nerves in the brain and spinal cord.
Although the pain feels like it is in a particular body part, there is no actual damage to the tissues or surrounding organs. The only damage is in the nerves that report to the brain.
Pain is a common symptom of multiple sclerosis and can often have debilitating effects on everyday life.
This symptom covers a wide range of unpleasant physical sensations that can range from uncomfortable to very painful. People report experiencing throbbing, stabbing, squeezing, pinching, gnawing, burning, and even pain similar to that of electric shock.
There are two main types of pain in multiple sclerosis. First is nerve pain or neuropathic pain. This is caused by damage to the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. This is where altered sensations stem from.
Second, musculoskeletal or nociceptive pain. This is caused by damage to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and soft tissues.
No two people experience MS pain the same way. The pain can be annoying, uncomfortable, or excruciating. It often causes a big impact on a person with MS. There are some reports that suggest that up to 80% of people with MS may experience pain at some stage.
5. Vision problems
For many people with MS, vision problem is one of the first noticeable symptoms that they have this condition. It can also arise if a person has MS for some time and it was left untreated.
Sudden onset of blurred vision, poor contrast or color vision, and pain on eye movement is most common.
Optic neuritis is a common eye problem present in MS. Around one in five patients with MS say that this was the first symptom they experienced.
This is caused by damage to the optic nerve, this connects the eyes to the brain. The optic nerves become inflamed or damaged in the pathway that controls visual coordination and eye movement may have occurred.
It usually occurs in one eye only.
Blind spots, color vision, and pain during eye movement are most prevalent with optic neuritis. And while vision problems due to MS can be scary, most either resolve without treatment or are highly treatable.
6. Dizziness and vertigo
Lightheadedness or dizziness is a common symptom of multiple sclerosis. If the sensation becomes more severe and gives off a feeling that the surroundings are spinning, it is then referred to as vertigo.
Vertigo can cause a person to feel unsteady and more likely to fall and become nauseous.
The ability to feel oriented while stationary or moving relies on a complex interaction between various sensory systems. These include the eyes, the balance systems in the inner ear, information from movement, touch, and joint sensors all over the body. With every movement, these sensory systems give matching information to the brain.
A disruption that causes a mismatch in that information may affect the sense of orientation and cause vertigo.
In multiple sclerosis, these symptoms are caused by damage to the areas that coordinate perception and response to visual and spatial information.
One in three people with MS will get vertigo at some time during the course of their illness.
7. Bladder problems
At least 80% of people with MS will experience bladder problems due to their condition. Bladder problems are a common symptom in multiple sclerosis. It can make everyday life difficult for many patients.
Problems in the bladder can be divided into two types, storage problems, and emptying problems.
First, storage problems refer to needing to go to the toilet immediately (urgency) and frequently. It can happen during the day and even at night. Occasional bladder accidents (incontinence) may also occur when the bladder loses control. Urine may leak out.
Secondly, emptying problems refer to the difficulty in passing urine (hesitancy) and a feeling that the bladder is not emptying properly (retention). Multiple sclerosis causes nerve damage in areas of the brain and spinal cord. These play important parts in controlling bladder functions. The symptoms experienced would depend on which area has been affected.
8. Sexual dysfunction
This is a symptom that is very common in people with MS.
More than half of men with multiple sclerosis and between half and three-quarters of women will experience sexual problems.
Women experience vaginal dryness while men have erection problems. Both genders will notice a lower sex drive, troubles getting aroused, or reaching orgasm. They may also become less responsive to touch.
Sexual dysfunction can result from a complex interaction of physical, social, psychological, and emotional factors.
Multiple sclerosis damages the nerve pathways in the brain and spinal cord. These can process erotic stimuli, control sexual feelings and responses.
Other symptoms of multiple sclerosis can also play a big part in why some patients experience sexual dysfunction. Fatigue and bladder problems are the most obvious causes.
Some sexual problems may become long-lasting or permanent while others may eventually resolve themselves. The longer a person has MS, sexual dysfunction can occur at any time.
9. Cognitive problems
Thinking, concentration, understanding, information processing, problem-solving, and memory issues are some cognitive problems that may be present in people with multiple sclerosis.
This symptoms affects more than 50% of people with MS.
Cognition is the medical term that refers to thinking. Cognitive problems involve problems with thought and memory.
There are also reports of brain fog or thinking processes becoming not as organized or reliable as they used to be before multiple sclerosis.
Cognitive problems result from nerve damage in the brain. It interrupts the transmission of electrical messages, reduces the speed and accuracy of information.
Multiple sclerosis doesn’t usually change a person’s intellect or ability to read and understand.
Some people may experience severe symptoms that can make it hard to do daily activities but this is a rare occurrence. For most people, their cognitive symptoms are relatively mild and can fluctuate from day to day.
10. Bowel problems
Bowel dysfunction is another common symptom in multiple sclerosis. However, it is probably the most under-reported of all MS symptoms. This is due to people feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable talking about their bowel problems with their doctors or other health professionals.
The two most common bowel symptoms are constipation and incontinence.
Constipation is a big concern among patients with MS, as well as the loss of bowel control. It is the most common bowel problem. Passing stools become difficult and become less frequent than normal.
Incontinence, on the other hand, refers to the inability or lack of control over the bowel opening. This leads to bowel accidents.
Bowel problems happen because there is a disruption in the communication between the brain and various parts of the digestive system. This causes problems with sensation in the back passage and muscle control at the bottom of the anus.
Other MS symptoms may also make bowel problems even worse.
Clinical depression is among the most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
A constant feeling of sadness or low mood is often linked to depression. It is constantly present and can interfere with everyday life. Different levels of depression can range from mild to moderate to severe.
Generally, depression is linked to changes in brain chemistry that may lead to feelings of low mood. Anyone can develop this symptom at any point in their lives without apparent cause or reason.
Around 50% of those with multiple sclerosis mat experience depression. This is because the challenges of living with MS can become too taxing for many. Living with uncertainties, helplessness, social isolation, and stigma due to MS can all become factors for developing depression.
There are also some studies that have shown that depression can also occur as a direct result of MS itself. Areas of the brain associated with mood may experience lesions. This may lead to depression.