Multiple Sclerosis Ms Symptoms

Multiple sclerosis symptoms vary widely, depending on which area of the central nervous system is damaged. Spasticity and visual disturbances such as optic neuritis are common symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Sensory difficulties and muscle weakness also occur frequently.

Optic Neuritis

Optic neuritis is one of the most common varieties of multiple sclerosis symptoms. The visual centers of the central nervous system appear to be vulnerable to multiple sclerosis. About one third of people with multiple sclerosis report eye or visual symptoms.

Optic neuritis is often the first symptom of multiple sclerosis detected. Symptoms of optic neuritis include:

  • pain in the eye that develops within hours
  • blurred vision in one eye
  • loss in color perception
  • double vision.

The presence of optic neuritis does not always indicate multiple sclerosis. However, in 50 percent of optic neuritis cases, multiple sclerosis is determined to be the root of the visual disturbance.

Sensory Symptoms

In addition to optic neuritis, multiple sclerosis symptoms can affect other senses, especially touch. The location and nature of the sensory symptoms depends on central nervous system damage. Common sensory symptoms (collectively known as paresthesias) include:

  • numbness
  • pins and needles
  • lowered sensitivity to temperature
  • a burning sensation in the hands and feet.

Multiple sclerosis symptoms affecting sensation are most common in the arms, legs and face. The trunk of the body may also experience these symptoms.

Gait Problems and Spasticity

Like optic neuritis, problems with walking and mobility (gait) are very common with multiple sclerosis. The central nervous system controls muscle tone. If muscles are affected, a person with MS may exhibit symptoms of impaired mobility.

Spasticity describes symptoms of stiffness and muscle fatigue. Spasticity makes muscles tire easily and results in jerky, uncoordinated movements. Spasticity may affect one or more limbs and can make walking difficult.

Fatigue and Weakness

Fatigue and muscle weakness are multiple sclerosis symptoms often linked to spasticity, but they can occur as separate symptoms. Fatigue is especially common, with 80 percent of multiple sclerosis sufferers experiencing fatigue as a primary symptom. Muscle weakness may occur in a single limb or in multiple limbs.

Uncommon Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms

While multiple sclerosis often results in visual disturbances, fatigue and spasticity, many other symptoms can develop. Because MS affects the central nervous system, multiple sclerosis symptoms can affect almost any area of the body. Less well known multiple sclerosis symptoms include trigeminal neuralgia (electric shock-like pain in the face), depression, dementia and incontinence.

Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia describes multiple sclerosis symptoms that cause intense facial pains. It is a result of damage to the trigeminal nerves. The face has two trigeminal nerves, one on each side. The trigeminal nerves detect facial sensations. One or both nerves may be affected by trigeminal neuralgia.

Trigeminal neuralgia is also known as tic douloureux. Approximately 80 percent of people with multiple sclerosis develop trigeminal neuralgia. Trigeminal neuralgia typically causes intense facial pain that some people with multiple sclerosis liken to an electric shock. An attack of trigeminal neuralgia pain usually lasts less than two minutes. The attacks vary in frequency, and symptoms do not typically occur during sleep.

Other symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia include facial numbness or tingling, often developing just prior to trigeminal neuralgia pain. Muscle spasms, tics and an overall loss of facial coordination may also occur.

Urinary Incontinence and Bowel Problems

Eighty percent of people with multiple sclerosis report some degree of bladder or bowel dysfunction, including incontinence. In many cases, the dysfunction is not severe enough to warrant a diagnosis of true incontinence. Common symptoms include:

  • constipation
  • difficulty with starting to urinate
  • increased need to urinate
  • increased nocturnal urination.

In some cases, multiple sclerosis can result in true urinary or bowel incontinence. Incontinence may occur if the nerves controlling bladder and bowel function are damaged. Spasticity of the bladder can prevent the bladder from holding urine, causing incontinence. In some cases the bladder cannot be fully emptied, increasing the risk of urinary tract and kidney infections.

Depression and Dementia

Depression rates are higher than average in people with multiple sclerosis symptoms-the stress of living with symptoms can cause severe, and even suicidal, depression. Multiple sclerosis damage to the central nervous system also increases the likelihood of neurological deficiencies, including depression and dementia.

Fifty percent of people with multiple sclerosis list some cognitive problems as symptoms. Cognitive multiple sclerosis symptoms often include shorter attention spans, difficulty concentrating and memory loss. In five to ten percent of these cases, cognitive symptoms interfere with daily life, and may resemble dementia symptoms. Clinical dementia and depression are symptoms that usually develop late in the course of multiple sclerosis, if they develop at all.

Lhermette’s Syndrome

Lhermettes syndrome describes a sensation of electric tingling down the spine when bending down, and is one of the less common multiple sclerosis symptoms.

Sexual Dysfunction

Multiple sclerosis symptoms can include sexual dysfunction. Nerve damage may affect sexual arousal, and can also interfere with orgasm.

Heat and Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms

No matter what the nature of multiple sclerosis symptoms, symptoms may worsen if the central nervous system is exposed to heat. For instance, Uhthoff’s syndrome describes a worsening of visual blurriness symptoms after exposure to a hot environment or after exercise.


Fauci, A., Braunwald, E., Isselbacher, K., Wilson, J., Martin, J., Kasper, D., Hauser, S.