Early Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Signs and Symptoms

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

Picture of Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Is MS Contagious? How Do You Get MS?

Scientists and researchers don't know the exact cause of multiple sclerosis, but isn't spread from person-to-person. There are a variety of unproven theories that MS is caused by:

  • Genetic factors
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Black mold
  • Too much salt intake

Quick GuideMultiple Sclerosis (MS) Symptoms and Treatment

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Symptoms and Treatment

What is multiple sclerosis (MS)?

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune inflammatory disease that attacks myelinated axons in the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system), damaging or destroying the myelin and/or the axons (nerve tissue). Sclerosis means abnormal hardening or thickening of tissue, often due to inflammation.
  • The disease is often slowly progressive over many years (about 25 years) and is most commonly diagnosed in females ages 20 to 40 but may occur at any age and both genders. Individuals often suffer intermittent attacks followed by periods of symptom remissions.
  • Attacks can last for days or months at a time followed by remissions; some individuals however, may continue to get worse without periods of remission.

This article an introduction to the various early multiple sclerosis symptoms and treatments that can arise in individuals with the disease.

At what age does MS start?

In general, the first symptoms of MS typically begin between the ages of 20 and 40 years old. However, it is possible to have MS begin in childhood or over 40 years of age, but it occurs less frequently in these age groups.

Does MS cause pain?

About two thirds of patients with MS report pain as symptom of their disease. Headache, back pain, extremity pain and muscle spasms are the most common pains reported. Because the pain comes from the nerves, common pain medicines like aspirin have little or no effect. Other medications that treat MS pain are listed in the drug treatment section.

5 early signs and symptoms of multiple sclerosis

Because the autoimmune inflammatory may attack some of the myelinated axons in the central nervous system almost anywhere, the location (and severity) of each attack can be different. Consequently, the symptoms of a MS attack may be quite variable from patient to patient and can appear almost anywhere in the body. The usual first sign and symptom is often a change in sensory perception (paresthesias) almost anywhere in the body. Other early common symptoms include:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Weakness
  3. Tingling
  4. Blurred vision
  5. Pain (muscular and neurologic)

Because of the highly variable symptoms this is a disease that is difficult to diagnose when symptoms first appear. The rest of the article will present symptoms that arise from various parts of the body that can be due to MS. Unfortunately, many of the symptoms described can occur in other disease processes so it is important to have a diagnosis of MS in part by ruling out other conditions.

The diagnosis of MS usually involves a neurologist that will take your medical history, do blood tests, tests to measure electrical activity in the brain and other areas, an MRI and an analysis of spinal fluid. Tests may be done to distinguish MS from stroke, thyroid - caused illness or other debilitating diseases that cause similar symptoms to MS.

Vision problems

Numbness, tingling, and pain

  • Tingling, burning or feelings of crawling movement in the arms and legs
  • Painful muscle spasms
  • Facial pain
  • Facial muscle twitching
  • Facial weakness

Sexual problems

  • Decreased vaginal lubrication in women
  • Problems with erections in men

Balance, thinking, and emotional problems

As previously mentioned, individuals with MS have variable symptoms so symptoms described above are generalized symptoms; it is likely that a person with multiple sclerosis may show initial symptoms in one or two of these major categories in the early development of MS; other symptoms may or may not appear later in the disease process. However, MS is a slowly progressive disease for which there is no known cure. The goal of treatment is to reduce and/or control symptoms.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/18/2017

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