MS symptoms and how to manage them
This article looks at all the major symptoms of MS and offers resources about how to manage them.
There is a wide variety of MS symptoms and they do not follow a typical pattern. They are different from person to person and your own symptoms will change over time.
Although there is a range of symptoms, some are more common than others. Everyone’s experience will be different.
Although there is a long list of symptoms associated with MS, you may not ever experience some of them, or may not get them until later.
MS symptoms and how to manage them
- Walking (gait) difficulties
- Numbness or tingling
- Spasticity and spasms
- Vision problems
- Vertigo and dizziness
- Bladder and bowel problems
- Sexual and relationship problems
- Memory and thinking
- Mental health changes
- Temperature sensitivity
- Speech problems
- Swallowing problems
- Breathing problems
- Hearing loss
Most symptoms can be managed very effectively using medication, rehabilitation and other strategies. Understanding what you’re experiencing and talking to your medical team about it will be the key to long term MS management.
Here we have listed the types of symptoms you may experience and we have linked to external resources that you might find useful if you do.
This is the most common MS symptom and reported by about 80% of people with MS.
Fatigue isn’t just tiredness. It’s been likened by people to a hangover, jetlag and the flu all rolled into one. Sound familiar?
Walking (gait) difficulties
Difficulty walking in MS is common and can happen for a number of reasons including spasticity, numbness, balance problems and muscle weakness.
Your walking can be improved by things like physical therapy, medications and mobility aids.
Numbness or tingling
Sometimes called altered sensations, numbness is a common early MS sign. It can also feel like pins and needles, burning, itching or crawling on your skin.
These feelings are a type of nerve pain and although they feel like they are in the skin they are actually caused by damage to nerves in the central nervous system.
Spasticity and spasms
Spasticity refers to muscle stiffness and involuntary spasms. It’s very common in MS and can vary in severity from a feeling of tightness in muscles through to painful spasms.
It most often affects your legs but can happen in other muscles. There are lots of different treatments and ways to help manage spasticity and muscle problems.
Muscle weakness can happen all over your body and can cause other problems such as having trouble walking. There are two main causes: the muscles deconditioning due to lack of use or damage to the nerve fibres which stimulate the muscles. Weight training can be used to effectively improve your muscle strength so talk to your health team about what exercises you can do.
Problems with your eyesight is a common problem in MS and for around 1 in 5 people optic neuritis is their first symptom.
Most people only experience vision problems temporarily, although you may experience it more than once. It is caused by inflammation of the optic nerve.
Vertigo and dizziness
Sometimes your MS might cause you to feel dizzy or lightheaded or that the your surroundings are spinning. It can be a common symptom of MS, affecting around one in three people.
It can often be treated using anti-motion sickness medications or physiotherapy.
Bladder and bowel problems
Very common but often not discussed, it is thought up to three quarters of people with MS experience either bladder or bowel problems. Common problems are constipation, needing to urinate frequently or needing to urinate urgently.
Talking about your bladder and bowel might feel like embarrassing problem to talk about but your health care team won’t be surprised and will be able to help you. Common treatments include lifestyle changes, medications or products like catheters.
Sexual and relationship problems
Sexual problems are common in the general population and people with MS are no different. MS and nerve damage can impact directly on having sex but also on everything that goes with it.
Talk to whoever you feel most comfortable with in your healthcare team and they will be able to help you or navigate you to someone else who can.
It can be linked to many of the symptoms and signs of MS and can often be hard to describe and manage. Pain in MS can either be neuropathic, caused by nerves, or musculoskeletal - from other causes like weakness or mobility problems.
Memory and thinking
Around half of people with MS have some kind of problem with thinking (cognition). These problems include memory, understanding, decision making or concentration.
It’s often referred to in MS as cog-fog or brain fog. It often varies a lot from from day to day and can be triggered by other things like fatigue.
Mental health changes
The immediate focus of MS treatment is often physical health but MS can have a significant effect on your mental health too. There are both physical causes (nerve damage) and psychological causes. Make sure it’s something you think about and discuss with your health team if you need to.
Being too hot or too cold can really affect you if you’ve got MS. It’s incredibly common and annoying to live with. There are lots of products out there to help you regulate your temperature and live more comfortably.
Speech problems such as slurring or lack of volume can develop in later MS or in period of fatigue
This can develop from weaknesses or problems with the nerves that control the muscles in your throat and mouth. It is more common in the later stages of the disease.
Involuntary movement of the head, body or limbs can happen in MS. There are different types of tremor that you can experience.
Seizures are fairly uncommon in MS, only slightly more than the general population. You should talk to a doctor quickly if you start experiencing seizures.
More common in advanced MS, breathing problems can happen when you lose muscle strength in your chest and abdomen.
About 6% of people who have MS experience hearing loss. In very rare cases, hearing loss has been reported as the first symptom of the disease.