The symptoms of MS include: fatigue, problems with sight, balance and dizziness, numbness and tingling, muscle spasms, cognitive difficulties, bladder and bowel problems.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?Multiple sclerosis, or MS is a neurodegenerative disease, which means that the brain degenerates over time. It’s characterised by damaged areas (lesions) on the brain and spinal cord. MS causes, among other things, muscle spasms, problems with thinking and learning, and mobility problems.
For more information about the history, causes, and treatments of multiple sclerosis, see MS: A Deeper Dive
What are MS symptoms?The symptoms of multiple sclerosis are varied, can affect any part of the body, and every patient is affected differently. For some, the symptoms develop and get more pronounced over time, and for others the symptoms come and go. Two terms that are often used are:
- Relapse – when symptoms that have abated for a time, come back.
- Remission – When symptoms that have been bad, improve or clear.
- Problems with sight
- Trouble with balance and dizziness
- Numbness and tingling
- Muscle spasms, stiffness and weakness
- Problems when thinking or planning
- Sexual problems
- Bladder problems
- Bowel problems
- Problems with speech and swallowing
FatigueFatigue is an ‘invisible symptom’ of multiple sclerosis. It comes as a sudden loss of energy that prevents the patient from being able to continue an activity. It can be either or both mental and physical. It cannot be ‘worked through’, and the recovery time can be long. It’s difficult for family, friends or colleagues to understand fatigue and how debilitating it can be. The most common assumption is that the patient simply isn’t ‘trying hard enough’. Understandably it’s the most common cause of MS patients needing to reduce their working hours or give-up working entirely.
Problems with sightAs multiple sclerosis affects nervous system, it’s not surprising that it should affect the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. 20% of MS patients experience a problem with one or both of their eyes (at different times). It can be temporary loss of vision, colour blindness, flashes of light, blind spots with otherwise good vision, and often causes pain.
Trouble with balance and dizzinessRoughly speaking there are 3 parts to the balance system, and all rely on swift transmission of information about the outer environment, to the brain. When the pathways that carry these signals are interrupted, the physical effects can be destabilising. To balance we need:
- Effective sight to communicate information about the environment
- A stable inner ear to update the brain on the angle of the head
- Clear senses, that might be interrupted by numbness or tingling, to communicate where the various parts of the body are
If you are caring for someone with MS, the HomeTouch team can help. We can provide you with advice and support, and help you to find a top quality carer in your local area.
Just call 020 7148 0746.
Numbness and tinglingNumbness and tingling can affect any part of the body, but commonly affects the face, arms and legs. This is one of the most common symptoms of MS, and often the first symptom that raises alarm. The numbness can be slight, or it can be so severe that it has an effect on carrying out everyday activities.
- If feet are numb or tingling, then walking can be difficult
- If hands are numb then holding objects can be unadvisable, especially items such as a cup of tea, which if dropped, might cause both injury and a terrible mess
- If the face is numb, then eating without biting the inside of the mouth or tongue can be difficult
Problems with thinking and planningCognitive problems affect about 50% of people with MS, and those patients will experience some problems with memory, attention span, planning, decision making, and understanding. These problems are more likely to arise the longer the condition persists. These symptoms are easy to dismiss as related to stress, overwork, tiredness, or the ageing process. The most common description given for these cognitive problems is ‘brain fog’, or ‘fuzziness’. As these symptoms usually get progressively worse, it is possible to come up with ways to cope with them on a daily basis.
Sexual problemsMS can cause complications with sexual responses and relationships. Mechanically, orgasms require messages to be sent through the nervous system between the brain and the sexual organs, and if there’s nerve damage in the pathways involved, then this can cause simple functional barriers. Less mechanically, living with a condition, especially one where the ongoing symptoms can be hard to understand, can create a barrier between two people. The worry and stress that can come from facing a long-term condition can also cause a breakdown in libido. MS in itself can cause a loss of interest in sex, and post diagnosis, the grief of adjusting to the new reality can affect sexual desire. Embarrassment and feeling less attractive can also impact.
Bladder problemsThe bladder works when the senses communicate with the brain that the bladder is getting full. This warning usually allows time for getting to a toilet. Once there, the muscles in the bladder need to coordinate; one relaxes while the other contracts. There are two problems that can face people with MS:
Bowel problemsThese can be a source of great discomfort and embarrassment for MS patients. The two extremes are constipation and diarrhoea. Constipation can be caused by:
- Reduced fluid intake
- Reduced physical activity
- The side effects of certain medications
- Keeping fluid levels high
- Eating plenty of fibre; fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grains
- Physical activity