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Complications From Multiple Sclerosis

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on January 12, 2021

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that disrupts the communication between your brain and the rest of your body. MS can affect each person differently. You may have one or more symptoms while someone else could have many more.

You also can develop complications along with your MS. They can range from mild to severe. The problems may differ from person to person.

Muscle Stiffness and Spasticity

It’s quite common to feel tightness and soreness in your larger muscles. Spasticity may make your muscles so stiff that you can’t easily unclench your fist or bend your wrist. You also may get painful spasms. Stiffness and spasms can happen anywhere on your body. But leg muscles are affected most often. Your joints and low back also may hurt.

Medications can help ease your spasticity. So can treatments that relax your muscles, including exercises, stretches, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy.

Bladder and Bowel Problems

MS can disrupt the electrical signals to the muscles that control how you pee and poop. As many as nine out of 10 people with MS have problems with their bladder. The issues vary from person to person but may include:

  • Trouble controlling when you pee
  • Feeling the need to go right away
  • Changes in often you may need to pee
  • Difficulty urinating

About two out of three people have issues with bowel movements. The most common complaint is constipation, which is having trouble pooping or having fewer than three bowel movements a week. Some people may have trouble controlling when they need to poop.

Physical activity, diet changes, medication adjustments, and timed routines for bowel movements can help you gain more control over your life.

Vision Problems

Most people with MS will have issues with their eyes at some point. Some common vision problems include:

Optic neuritis. This can cause pain in your eye as well as dim or blurry vision. Optic neuritis also can take away your ability to see colors. You might even lose your vision temporarily. Usually, your vision returns after some time.

Nystagmus. This is also called “dancing eyes.” It’s when you lack control over your eye movements. This can happen consistently in some people with MS. For others, nystagmus can come and go.

Diplopia. This means double vision. It happens because MS can disrupt the nerves that control eye movement and weaken or damage them. You may see two of the same images side by side or one on top of the other. For some people, diplopia may be temporary, but others may have it for long periods of time. Medication and special eyeglasses can help you if your symptoms persist.

Balance Issues

Muscles weakness, spasms, and vision problems all can affect your balance and walking form. Treatments such as physical therapy can help you gain more control over your muscle spasms. Canes, crutches, walkers, and wheelchairs also can help you move around more easily.

Mental Health

Living with a lifelong disease can affect you mentally and emotionally. It’s common and normal to feel overwhelmed sometimes.

It’s important to talk to your doctor or health care provider if you feel depressed or anxious and it affects your daily life. Antidepressants, talk therapy, counseling, and other services can help.

Exercises, hobbies, getting outside, and connecting with loved ones also can boost your mood.

Sexual Dysfunction

The faulty nerve signals that happen with MS can affect the sex drive for women and men. It can make it harder to reach orgasm or get an erection. MS complications such as bladder and bowel problems, fatigue, and depression also may affect your sexual health. Side effects from MS medications can play a part too.

Talk to your doctor if you have issues with arousal or find sex painful or uncomfortable. Aids like vibrators and lubricants can heighten sexual sensation. Certain sexual positions may be easier. You also can learn ways to stay intimate with cuddling and other acts.

Epilepsy

MS raises your chances of epilepsy, a brain disorder that causes seizures. The episodes may be mild and temporary. Antiepileptic drugs can help. Sometimes, you may not need any treatments for seizures.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

UpToDate: “Symptom management of multiple sclerosis in adults,” “Patient education: Multiple sclerosis in adults (The Basics).”

Mayo Clinic: “Multiple Sclerosis,” “Optic Neuritis.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Bladder and Bowel Dysfunction in Multiple Sclerosis (MS)”

National MS Society: “How Common Is It To Have MS With Other Medical Conditions? First Results from the MS ‘Comorbidities’ Project,” “MS Symptoms,” “Vision Problems.”

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