Update on Multiple Sclerosis | UCLA Neurology
Early Signs of Multiple Sclerosis
From vision problems to numbness that won't go away, certain symptoms could signal MS — and that it's time to see your doctor.
By Connie Brichford
Medically Reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD
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Whilemultiple sclerosis (MS)is not a particularly common disease, it’s not rare, either. In fact, theNational Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS)estimates that someone is diagnosed with MS every hour.
For that reason, it’s good to be aware of the signs and symptoms of MS, so that if you have them — and especially if they persist — you get them checked out by a doctor.
Could It Be MS?
While some symptoms of MS are very common, there’s no typical pattern of symptoms that applies to everyone, and many of the symptoms resemble those of other diseases.
For one person, the first symptom of MS may be numbness and tingling, while for another it’s dizziness, and for yet another it’s crushing fatigue.
The key to determining whether a symptom might be due to MS is timing, saysTanuja Chitnis, MD, assistant professor of neurology and director of the Partners Pediatric MS Center at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston.
MS symptoms develop over the course of several days, Dr. Chitnis says, and can last for several days to a few weeks.
Common Early Symptoms
The following are some common early symptoms of MS:
Vision Loss Eye problems, including vision loss, are often the first sign of MS. Before Jeffrey Gingold received his MS diagnosis, for example, he noticed his vision rapidly declining in one eye. Gingold was 36 at the time, making such dramatic vision loss extremely unusual.
He scheduled an appointment with his regular ophthalmologist, who told him, "You either have MS, or you have a brain tumor." AnMRIconfirmed that he had MS.
Balance Problems Balance problems and dizziness are also common early signs of MS. When Rick Sommers was diagnosed with MS at age 34, he was fit and athletic.
"I was training for a marathon, and my balance was off," he recalls. "I felt light-headed. I went to a doctor who thought it was an inner ear infection.”
But, he says, “I was misdiagnosed." It took another symptom and another doctor to arrive at the correct diagnosis.
RELATED:13 Conditions Commonly Mistaken for Multiple Sclerosis
Numbness and Tingling After Sommers’s balance difficulties, he began to notice tingling and numbness in his right side, which motivated him to see a neurologist. The neurologist ordered an MRI and found lesions in Sommers's brain that indicated MS was causing his symptoms.
Everyone has experienced the temporary, pins-and-needles numbness that accompanies resting on an arm or leg in the wrong way, but this feeling tends to go away within a few minutes as blood flow returns to the area. Numbness or tingling associated with MS tends to last much longer.
Heat Intolerance Sensitivity to heat is another telltale sign of MS. If you feel dizzy, faint, or unusually uncomfortable in warm temperatures or when engaging in body-warming activities, such as soaking in a hot tub, exercising, or sunbathing, it could be a sign of MS. Heat intolerance also tends to make other symptoms of MS more pronounced.
When to See a Doctor
MS symptoms are varied and numerous. In addition to those described above, common symptoms include fatigue, pain, bowel andurinary problems, sexual dysfunction, difficulty swallowing,speech problems, cognitive (thinking and memory) problems, anddepression— among others.
Some of these symptoms are common to many disorders, but if you are experiencing any of these for more than 24 hours, there is a chance that MS is the cause.
Of course, any symptom that interferes with your job performance, daily functioning, or quality of life is worth discussing with your doctor, whether or not you suspect it might be related to MS.
For many diseases, the earlier they are caught, the more effective treatment will be, and MS is no exception. Treatments are now available that can effectively slow disease progression, and initiating them as early as possible is generally the best course you can take.
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