Multiple Sclerosis: Early Warning Signs

When you have multiple sclerosis (MS), your immune system attacks your central nervous system, affecting your brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Symptoms can vary, and come and go, making it sometimes hard to diagnose. You could have one symptom, and then months or years later have a completely different one, not realizing the two are related. In one study, people went an average of 7 years between their first MS symptom and their diagnosis.

So, learn the common early symptoms of MS. It may help you get diagnosed and treated quicker.

Vision Problems

For many people, the first symptom of multiple sclerosis is in their eyes. Often, MS causes optic neuritis, a condition that damages the nerve connecting the eye to the brain. It usually affects just one eye, but in rare cases it involves both. Symptoms include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Colors that appear dull
  • Pain in the eye, especially when you move it

Often, the symptoms get better on their own within a few weeks or months. But if you have these symptoms, go to your doctor right away.

Other eye conditions linked to MS bring on double vision and involuntary eye movements.

Strange Sensations

The first symptoms of MS may also be unusual sensations around your body, including:

  • An electric-shock-like feeling when you move your head or neck; it may travel down your spine or into your arms or legs.
  • Numbness, often in the face
  • Tingling
  • A feeling of tightness or swelling
  • Severe itching


Another common early symptom of MS is extreme tiredness. You may feel exhausted even if you haven’t been very active. You may be tired as soon as you wake up in the morning.

Heat-Related Problems

When you exercise, you may get tired and weak as soon as your body warms. You may also have trouble controlling certain body parts, like your foot or leg, while your body is warmed up. As you rest and cool down, these symptoms are likely to go away.

Walking Problems

MS can lead to worse coordination, making it hard to walk. Symptoms can include:

  • Trouble keeping your balance
  • Trouble walking with your usual gait


Other Symptoms

Depending on which part of your nervous system is affected, other early symptoms can include:

  • Trouble thinking clearly
  • Depression
  • Bladder and bowel problems
  • A sense that the room is spinning, a condition called vertigo
  • Pain

Talk to Your Doctor About Your Symptoms

If you’ve had one or more symptoms that are common with MS, your doctor may suggest tests. These can include:

  • Blood tests to look for other problems with MS-like symptoms, like Lyme disease
  • A test to measure the speed of signals traveling along your nerves
  • An MRI, which creates images of your brain, so your doctor can check for areas of damage
  • A spinal tap to check the fluid that flows in your brain and spinal cord; this may show signs that your immune system is harming your nervous system, which is what happens in MS.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on April 24, 2016



National MS Society: “What is multiple sclerosis?;” “Symptoms;” “Diagnosing MS;” “Optic neuritis;” and “Diagnosing MS.”

Marrie, R.A. Neurology, Jan. 2009.

Goldman's Cecil Medicine, 24th edition, 2012

UptoDate: “Epidemiology and clinical features of multiple sclerosis in adults.”

Miller, D.H. TheLancet Neurology, February 2012.

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