What are the Symptoms of MS?

MS symptoms vary greatly from person to person; they also vary in severity and duration. They might include:

  • Visual problems
  • Speech problems
  • Changes in sensation such as numbness or pain
  • Loss of coordination or balance
  • Stiffness of muscles, weakening, or paralysis of any part of the body
  • Unusual and extreme fatigue
  • Bladder and bowel problems
  • Mood or cognitive changes

The majority of people with MS do not have all these symptoms: every case varies. Consult a doctor or neurologist if you have questions about symptoms. 

What are relapses?

Relapses are medically defined as the appearance of new or worsening of old symptoms lasting at least 24 hours. At these times, symptoms may suddenly become worse, or new ones may appear. In between relapses, there are periods called remissions. During these times, the disease doesn’t appear to progress. Sometimes there are years between relapses.

What are pseudo-relapses?

A pseudo-relapse, or pseudo-exacerbation, is a temporary worsening of MS symptoms, that have occurred before. The episode usually results from a trigger such as a rise in body temperature or other stressor (e.g., infection, fatigue, constipation). A pseudo-exacerbation is not related to new inflammation or disease activity within the central nervous system.

It is important to remember that not all health problems will be caused by MS. People who have MS still have—along with everyone else—colds, flu, broken bones, ulcers, diabetes, and anything else a person might experience in their lives. A person with MS should be sure to obtain medical treatment when problems arise. Don’t assume “it’s just MS”.

Does everyone with MS end up in a wheelchair?

This is one of the most common concerns about MS. Because MS varies so much, no one can predict what will happen in the future, nor can a doctor say exactly what symptoms one might experience in the years to come. However, only a small number of people with MS will need to use a wheelchair on a regular basis, and many people with MS who use wheelchairs are still able to walk on their own. They use a wheelchair—or cane, or scooter—to help conserve energy, or prevent injury if their gait is unsteady. One study has shown that after twenty-five years with the illness, two-thirds of people with MS were still able to walk (some with the help of a walking aid). It’s important to remember that disability due to MS develops much more slowly than people generally believe. Another study has shown, for example, that it took 28 years from the onset of MS for 50% of people to need a cane or more to walk the distance of a block.

What is MS?