Multiple sclerosis (MS) can cause a wide range of symptoms and there's no exact list of early signs. A first symptom of MS for one person may never be experienced by someone else. That’s why it’s best to make an appointment with your GP about any symptom that worries you.
What are usually the first signs and symptoms of MS?
There's no typical pattern of MS symptoms that applies to everyone - people can have different symptoms at different times. The early signs and symptoms of MS can be the same for women and men.
One of the more obvious first signs of MS is a problem with vision, known as optic neuritis. This is often because it's a more concrete symptom as opposed to vaguer neurological symptoms like numbness and tingling. You shouldn't assume these symptoms are a sign of MS though - not everyone who experiences them will get an MS diagnosis.
If you've searched for symptoms online or you know someone with MS, it may be at the front of your mind. But many symptoms of MS can also be symptoms of other conditions.
What are some of the common symptoms of MS?
Some of the most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis are listed below. There are lots of symptoms that MS can cause, but not everyone will experience all of them.
- numbness and tingling
- loss of balance and dizziness
- stiffness or spasms
- bladder problems
- bowel trouble
- vision problems
- problems with memory and thinking
Fatigue in MS is not just an ordinary tiredness, like you might get at the end of a hard day's work. People describe it as an overwhelming sense of tiredness with no obvious cause.
A common type of discomfort in MS is unpleasant, unusual sensations that appear to be in your skin, like numbness and tingling. They're caused by damage to nerves.
Problems with balance and feeling dizzy are common in MS, and can affect your walking.
Muscle stiffness and spasms are common MS symptoms, and are often described as 'spasticity'.
A tremor is a trembling or shaking movement. It can be mild or more pronounced, causing a drink to spill when a cup is full, for example, or affecting handwriting.
Pain in MS can take many different and unusual forms. It can be caused by direct nerve damage. Or it can come from your symptoms and strains they place on your body.
There are two main types of bladder problems in MS: problems with storage and problems with emptying.
MS can cause bowel problems like constipation and incontinence.
The most common problems with vision in MS are optic neuritis and eye movement problems. Optic neuritis is often an early symptom of multiple sclerosis, although you might have problems with your eyes at any time.
Problems with memory and thinking - also called 'cognitive problems' - can affect people with MS, but most people will be affected mildly.
What age does MS usually start?
In the UK people are most likely to find out they have MS in their thirties, forties and fifties. But the first signs of MS often start years earlier. Many people notice their first symptoms years before they get their diagnosis.
How does multiple sclerosis begin?
Multiple sclerosis is likely to begin due to a mix of factors – something in your environment and some lifestyle factors. No one knows for sure why people get MS.
How is MS diagnosed?
Only a neurologist can diagnose MS. If your GP thinks your symptoms need further investigation, they'll refer you to a specialist.
Some people describe this period of time as 'limbo' - where they don't have a diagnosis but they're experiencing symptoms.