Multiple Sclerosis: Symptoms and Types

Many symptoms are associated with multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the central nervous system. Symptoms are a result of disturbance in the nerve signaling from the nervous system to the rest of the body, caused by harm to the myelin and nerve cells.

Depending on the amount of nerve damage, as well as which nerves have been affected, the symptoms of MS can vary greatly. Signs of MS also can vary depending on the person and where she or he is in the course of the disease. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, many patients experience their first symptoms of MS between the ages of 20 and 40.

The initial symptoms are typically blurred or double vision, red-green color distortion, or, occasionally, blindness in one eye. The symptoms can be serious enough to cause problems with standing and walking. According to the Mayo Clinic, other symptoms associated with MS can include:

  • Numbness or weakness in one or more limbs. This typically occurs on one side of the body at a time, or in the legs and trunk.
  • Tingling, prickling, or pain in various parts of the body.
  • Electric-shock sensations that occur with certain movements of the neck, particularly when the neck is bent forward.
  • Tremors and lack of coordination
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Slurred speech
  • Issues with bowel and bladder function
  • Prolonged double vision
  • Partial or complete vision loss, often in one eye and with pain.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, approximately half of all people with MS also experience cognitive impairments, including difficulties with:

  • Concentration
  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Poor judgment.

Patients with MS typically experience an initial neurologic event indicating the disease, typically referred to as Clinically Isolated Syndrome or CIS. It can last for at least one day; the patient displays signs of a lesion, or multiple lesions, inside the central nervous system. There are four different types of MS, each of which is named based on how the disease affects the body over time. The four types are:

  • Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS): Approximately 85 percent of patients are initially diagnosed with RRMS. It is the most common form of MS, and entails enduring periods of new symptoms, or relapses that occur over short and long periods of time. These relapses typically improve moderately or entirely. Following relapses are periods of remission, which can last from months to years.
  • Secondary-Progressive MS (SPMS): Symptoms worsen progressively over time. This happens with or without remissions or relapses. The majority of patients initially diagnosed with RRMS will transition to SPMS.
  • Primary-Progressive MS (PPMS): PPMS occurs in about 10 percent of people with MS. This form is characterized by gradually worsening symptoms from the beginning, without relapses or remissions.
  • Progressive-Relapsing MS (PRMS): This form afflicts only about 5 percent of people with MS. PRMS is characterized by a steadily worsening condition from the beginning with severe relapses but no remissions.

Signs of MS can be worsened by minor increases in body temperature; however, those are not considered relapses. People with MS also are more likely to develop certain complications such as depression, epilepsy, or paralysis.

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