The symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) vary from person to person depending on which parts of the brain or spinal cord (central nervous system) are damaged. The loss of myelin and scarring caused by MS can affect any part of the central nervous system. Myelin is the insulating coating around a nerve.
Common early symptoms of MS include:
- Muscle or motor symptoms, such as weakness, leg dragging, stiffness, a tendency to drop things, a feeling of heaviness, clumsiness, or a lack of coordination (ataxia).
- Visual symptoms, such as blurred, foggy, or hazy vision, eyeball pain (especially when you move your eyes), blindness, or double vision. Optic neuritis-sudden loss of vision that is often painful-is a fairly common first symptom. It occurs in up to 25 out of 100 people who have MS.
- Sensory symptoms, such as tingling, a pins-and-needles sensation, numbness, a band of tightness around the trunk or legs, or electrical sensations moving down the back and legs.
As MS progresses, symptoms may become more severe and may include:
- Worse muscle problems, and stiff, mechanical movements (spasticity) or uncontrollable shaking (tremor). These problems may make walking difficult. A wheelchair may be needed some or all of the time.
- Pain and other sensory symptoms.
- Bladder symptoms, such as an inability to hold urine (urinary incontinence) or to completely empty the bladder, or a loss of bladder sensation.
- Constipation and other bowel disorders.
- Male erectile dysfunction (impotence) and female sexual dysfunction.
- Cognitive and emotional problems. These are common in people who have had MS for some time.
- Feeling very tired (fatigue). This can be worse if symptoms such as pain, spasticity, bladder problems, anxiety, or depression make it hard to sleep.