Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a progressive autoimmune disorder that wears away at the coverings that protect the nerve cells. Affecting about 2.5 million people around the world, MS gradually weakens bodily function by attacking the cells of the brain and spinal column.
For some unknown reason, MS affects twice as many women as it does men, but heredity is the prime cause of vulnerability to this chronic disease and its unpredictable symptoms…
A constant tingling and numbness often resides in the face and extremities (i.e., the legs, arms, and fingers) of those with MS due to nerve cell damage to the brain and spinal column. This numbness is often linked to the fact that multiple sclerosis strikes the brain and spinal column (the body’s message center).
The brain and spinal column are often sent conflicting signals or no signals at all, which will often cause numbness in the areas of the legs, arms, fingers, and face. Numbness is often accompanied by tingling sensations. While other common early symptoms include fatigue, pain, and muscle spasms.
Unexplained muscle fatigue and muscle weakness, especially in the legs and feet, impact the majority of individuals with early MS. Fatigue will become more severe as the nerves of the spinal column degrade. According to the National MS Society, roughly 80-percent of patients with early stage MS experience this chronic fatigue and muscle weakness.
Chronic exhaustion and muscle weakness is the typical result of nerves gradually deteriorating in the spinal column (the body’s message center). Many MS patients experience no noticeable signs of a problem at the start. However, slight weakness can progress quickly into unexplained fatigue, lightheadedness, incoordination, balance issues, and vertigo that strikes suddenly and stretches on for days or weeks at a time.
3. Vision Problems
One of the earliest signs of MS is problems with vision, which slowly degrades over time and is sometimes accompanied by eye pain. This is due to the inflammation of the optic nerve, a condition medically referred to as optic neuritis, which causes blurry vision in one or both eyes, and even color blindness.
Early stage multiple sclerosis is often rife with vision problems characterized as “optic neuritis,” which causes the swelling of the optic nerve. The inflammation of the optic nerve can mess with central vision, causing blurred vision, blind spots, vision pain, double vision, lack of contract, color loss, or impaired vision in one or both eyes. MS vision issues typically come on gradually as vision degeneration can be slow.
4. Loss of Bowel & Bladder Control
According to the National MS Society, approximately 80-percent of MS patients have trouble with bowel and bladder control. Although loss of bladder control is the most common with patients suffering from urinary frequently and accidental urination, as well as explosive diarrhea and loss of bowel control.
This is due to the fact that bladder and bowel function is largely controlled by the central nervous system. Degeneration of nerves can lead to urinary frequency, urinary incontinence (or inability to hold urine), frequent nighttime bathroom trips, constipation, loss of bowel control, and explosive diarrhea, as well as lack of sexual arousal.
5. Memory Loss
Because MS attacks the central nervous system, it’s common for those with more advanced MS to suffer from a combination of memory loss, inability to focus, and speech or language issues. According to the National MS Society, roughly 50-percent of those struggling with multiple sclerosis suffer impaired cognitive function.
Deterioration of the central nervous system can present itself in various ways to various MS patients. For instance, patients may experience disorganization, decision making issues, memory lapses, lack of focus, declined attention span, and even speech and language issues. Understandably, these impairments to cognitive function can cause irritability and depression in many patients.
6. Muscle Spasms
Jerky and spontaneous muscle spasms are one of the more visible and embarrassing symptoms of MS. Muscle spasms are often quite painful and can leave the extremities, such as the arms and legs, quite sore and stiff afterwards. According to research from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, chronic and painful muscle spasms are suffered by approximately 50-precent of all patients.
Constant muscle pain and involuntary muscle movements (or spasms) also commonly accompanied by chronic joint and muscle stiffness, jerking movements (particularly in the extremities, like the hands and feet), as well as chronic back pain.
7. Sexual Dysfunction
Sex drive can also lessen and even disappear for those suffering with the stressful and unpredictable symptoms of MS. Sex also can become a challenge due to the deterioration of the central nervous system. According to research from the National MS Society, sexual arousal is largely controlled by the central nervous system with the brain receiving intital messages from the central nervous system and thus, sending signals out to the sexual organs via the nerves of the spinal cord.
However, as MS deteriorates these spinal cord nerve pathways, arousal, sexual fatigue, involuntary muscle spasticity, and orgasm can be impaired. Understandably, sexual function due to depression and self-esteem can also decline. A study by the National MS Society indicated that roughly 63-percent of MS patents reported sexual decline and dysfucntion following their diagnosis.
In addition to cognitive impairment and memory issues, problems with balance and gait can become troublesome as MS degrades the nerve cells and challenges coordination and mobility. This explains why many MS patients suffer vertigo and walk using a cane for support.
Because coordination is controlled primarily in the central nervous system, balance can gradually decline and feelings of vertigo (spinning), lightheadedness, and dizziness can occur when a person goes from sitting or laying down to standing. Gait issues (or issues with balance) often lead to MS patients using canes, walkers, and eventually wheelchairs as mobility decreases.
Epileptic-type seizures are very common in patients with MS, most often from the development of lesions in the area of the brain known as the cerebral cortex, the outermost neural tissue that covers and protects the cerebrum, which is the largest part of the brain. In fact, according to a Italian study, published by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the risk of epilepsy is heightened in patients with multiple sclerosis.
The study monitored 170 MS cases between the years 1975 and 1994, including a complete neurological examination of each patient to discover if MS lead to the developed of epilepsy after the onset and diagnosis of MS. Findings concluded that the risk of developing epilepsy tripled for MS patients compared to the general public.
Suffering with a debilitating condition like MS will often take its tool on a patient’s emotional health as well as their physical health, which explains why many MS sufferers battle with severe depression, irritability, and mood swings. This is why, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, depression and mood disorders are fairly common among MS patients.
MS is a roller coaster of a disease so it makes sense that living with it will be a roller coaster of emotions as it affects a patients mobility, memory, ability to care for themselves, independence, and personal relationships. In addition to depression due to the physical impairments of MS, living with the disease can cause moodiness, irritability (particularly with memory and cognitive decline), and bouts of uncontrollable laughing followed by bouts of uncontrolled crying (a condition known as the pseudo bulbar affect).