MS Symptoms

MS symptoms are varied and unpredictable, and no two cases of MS are the same. Symptoms develop based on the location of MS lesions within the brain and spinal cord. A person with MS could experience one or several symptoms.

For many MS symptoms, there are effective symptom management options, which can often help to reduce the impact of symptoms and help people to live well with MS.


Vision

Visual problems are often the first symptoms associated with MS and can include optic neuritis, blind spots, blurry vision, double vision and nystagmus (involuntary movement of the eyes).


Fatigue

MS fatigue can significantly impact a person’s ability to work and function. It is often described as heavy tiredness, body weakness and lack of energy.


Balance and coordination

Problems with balance and coordination may be an MS symptom, or may be caused indirectly by other symptoms. This includes loss of balance, tremors, unstable walking (ataxia), dizziness (vertigo), clumsiness of a limb, lack of coordination, and weakness (affecting in particular the legs).


Heat sensitivity

The heat can often make symptoms temporarily worse, but symptoms usually calm down once cool again. Many people have a similar experience with the cold, when they are ill, and/or stressed.


Numbness and sensation

People with MS may experience a change in their sense of touch. This includes numbness, pins and needles, tingling, crawling, prickling, burning, tightness and itching.


Bladder and bowel

Bladder problems are common for people with MS and many people experience some form of bladder concerns including urgency, trouble emptying the bladder, and frequently needing to go to the toilet. Constipation can also be an issue.


Muscle stiffness and spasms

People may experience altered muscle tone, muscle spasms and muscle stiffness (spasticity) which can affect mobility and walking.


Cognition

This can include problems with thinking or cognition such as short-term memory loss, concentration problems, difficulty planning or problem solving, and impaired judgement or decision-making. These symptoms are often referred to as “brain fog”.


Pain

No two people experience MS pain in the same way – it can be slightly annoying, uncomfortable or excruciating. Pain can be long lasting and impact daily life, or come in short bouts.


Depression

Often related to anxiety or stress, depression can be a symptom of MS or develop as a result of diagnosis or a change in the condition.


Speech and swallowing

Changes to speech can include slowing of speech, slurring of words, changes to speech rhythm and difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).


What is a relapse?

People diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) experience flare-ups of symptoms followed by a partial or total recovery, or remission. This is known as a relapse or attack. Relapses occur unpredictably.

The symptoms of a relapse will generally improve on their own, but there are a few ways to manage relapses. There are also a number of treatments available for people living with RRMS, which can help to reduce the frequency and severity of relapses.

A sudden onset of symptoms can also occur temporarily when a person living with MS is hot, stressed or ill. This is not considered a medical relapse, but it is always important to report your symptoms to your doctor or an MS nurse if you are concerned or unsure.