Multiple Sclerosis and Your Body

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that affects your brain and spinal cord. When you have it, your immune system -- your body's defense against germs -- attacks the insulation, or myelin, surrounding your nerves. The damage to your myelin causes inflammation and keeps your nerves from sending messages to your brain the way they should.

This can cause a variety of problems, from your head to your toes.

Brain

The way you think -- what doctors call your "cognition" -- can change because of your MS. So can your mood. Many people with MS describe this as "brain fog."

Cognition

You might find yourself having trouble remembering things or paying attention, especially if you're juggling more than one thing at a time. It can be harder to plan ahead or organize tasks, and you may not be able to recall words as easily as you used to.

Emotion and personality

Your brain helps control your mood, and MS can alter those parts of your brain. You might have mood swings. Depression is common in people with MS. It can be a direct cause of MS or a result of dealing with the condition.

Tips to Help With Mood and Cognition Problems

Mouth

When MS affects any of the many nerves that support your mouth, throat, lungs, or vocal cords, you can have:

Speech problems

Around 40% of people with MS have trouble with different parts of talking. You may have a hard time forming words or slur your speech. Sometimes talking is a struggle because of damage to the nerves you use to control the volume and pitch of your voice. You may talk loudly or be hoarse.

Swallowing problems

Not only do the nerves that go to your mouth and throat need to work correctly for you to swallow, they have to work together. If you notice you're choking or coughing more when you eat, these may be early signs of swallowing problems. You're at a higher risk of aspirating (breathing) food or liquid into your lungs, which can be dangerous.

Tips to Manage Speech and Swallowing Problems

Eyes

Vision problems are often the first sign of MS for many people.

You may deal with:

Optic neuritis

Your optic nerve runs from your brain to your eyes. When MS causes inflammation in this nerve, you may have eye pain, blurry vision, or have difficulty seeing colors. Usually optic neuritis only affects one eye.

Double vision

If the nerves that control your eye movement are inflamed or damaged, you might start to see two of the same image side by side.

Uncontrolled eye movement

This condition is called nystagmus, or "dancing eyes." When you have it, your eyes move rapidly from side to side or up and down on their own. It may happen all the time or come and go.

Bladder and Bowel

It's very common to have bladder and bowel issues when you have MS. Between 68% to 90% of people deal with these symptoms.

Bladder control

MS can make it hard to release pee when you want (incontinence) or make peeing painful. It can also make you feel like you need to go to the bathroom often and immediately. Sometimes these symptoms are because of nerve problems, and sometimes spasticity causes them. Your risk of urinary tract infections goes up because of problems peeing.

Bowel problems

The most common bowel issue is constipation. MS can make it harder to go or keep you from pooping as often as you should. You may also deal with bowel control -- not being able to hold in your poop when you need to go.

Arms and Legs

Numbness and tingling in your arms and legs is common in MS. It may be mild or severe and can cause several issues.

Gait and balance problems

It's common for people with MS to fall because of balance issues. You may have a harder time sensing where your body is in space, or your nerve issues could make walking more difficult. Walking also is harder when you're having muscle weakness or increased fatigue.

Reduced hand-eye coordination

Many nerves have to operate in sync to tell your hands to move the way you want. MS can slow down this process and make you clumsier.

Tips to Lower Falling Risk

Sexual Dysfunction

Arousal starts in your central nervous system. Both men and women can have problems with sexual function because of MS.

Problems include:

These issues can be because of nerve damage and inflammation or because of the emotional toll of dealing with MS.

Bone Weakness

MS can make it hard to feel like getting regular exercise. A lack of physical activity combined with some treatments for MS, such as steroids, can weaken your bones and raise your risk of osteoporosis and fractures.