Early Warning Signs of Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Learn how to recognize the common symptoms of this immune-mediated disease that damages the nervous system.

Medically reviewed in October 2021

According to a study supported by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), nearly one million Americans are living with multiple sclerosis (MS).

MS is an immune-mediated disease that damages the nervous system. When a person has MS, abnormal immune system activity attacks and damages myelin, a layer of fatty tissue that insulates and protects nerves, including nerves in the brain and spinal cord. This interferes with the nerves’ ability to transmit signals throughout the body. This can result in a wide range of symptoms and can also lead to disability.

People with MS typically experience their first symptoms between the ages of 20 and 40. MS can be a challenge to diagnose for a number of reasons—symptoms are different for everyone, symptoms can fluctuate, other diseases can exhibit similar symptoms, and there is no single definitive laboratory test to diagnose MS. Therefore, the diagnosis must be made on the basis of both a neurological examination and a history of symptoms.

If you have any neurological symptoms, it's important to speak with your healthcare provider to get an accurate diagnosis. Here are some common signs and symptoms of MS:

  • Problems with balance and of coordination.
  • Changes in vision, eye pain, abnormal eye movements.
  • Sexual dysfunction.
  • Difficulty speaking.
  • Fatigue.
  • Muscle spasms.
  • Problems with bowel and bladder control.
  • Weakness.
  • Numbness and tingling.
  • Difficulty thinking clearly.
  • Sensitivity to heat.

Keep in mind that having one or even a few of these symptoms doesn't necessarily mean you have MS. A sudden appearance of symptoms signaling central nervous system damage may lead healthcare providers to suspect the condition, but only careful examination and testing by a medical professional can confirm this diagnosis.

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