What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?
The Most Surprising Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
Most people with MS experience pain, fatigue, and mobility issues, but there are other, less-common symptoms.
By Beth W. Orenstein
Medically Reviewed by Samuel Mackenzie, MD, PhD
Don't Miss This
Sign Up for OurLiving with Multiple SclerosisNewsletter
Thanks for signing up!You might also like these other newsletters:
When you have multiple sclerosis (MS), the signals between your brain and spinal cord go awry, causing pain, fatigue, and reduced mobility as the disease progresses. Some people with MS have only a few symptoms of the disorder, while others have many. You may find that your MS symptoms come and go, while others find them long-lasting.
"What's surprising about MS symptoms is that they can affect so many different functions that people rely on every day in their lives," says Rosalind Kalb, PhD, a clinical psychologist and a consultant to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS). "Some are physical, some emotional, and some intellectual. We tend to focus on the ones we can all see, but many people may be living with a variety of symptoms that just aren't apparent."
RELATED: 250+ Ways to Manage MS — From Patients, Professionals, and Caregivers
Here are some less-obvious symptoms of MS that for the most part are fairly rare. They may be secondary to MS, or they could be signs of another condition. It's important that you notify your neurologist of any new symptom.
Many people with MS experience dizziness, in which the person feels faint, light-headed, or off balance. A less-common MS symptom is vertigo. When you have a vertigo episode, you feel as though the room is spinning around you, Kalb says. Vertigo can be treated with motion sickness or antinausea drugs or, if your symptoms are very severe, with corticosteroids.
2. Speech Disorders
Problems with speech related to multiple sclerosis usually involve difficulty articulating — your words don't come out very clearly, says Pat Kennedy, RN, a certified nurse practitioner and nurse educator with Can Do MS, a national organization that provides lifestyle empowerment programs for people living with MS and their partners.
It's unclear exactly how pervasive speech disorders are. In one survey that relied on patients reporting their MS symptoms, 23 percent felt they had speech and voice problems. Research conducted through Göteborg University in Sweden showed that in a group of 77 people with MS, about half had speech difficulties, usually mild ones. This study didn't look at speech problems in people without MS, so it's not possible to say whether their issues were due to MS or were secondary to another cause.
A speech and language therapist may be able to help treat speech difficulties.
3. Difficulty Swallowing
You may experience difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia, with MS, especially if you have brain-stem involvement.
"We see people who have fluids or foods go down their windpipes as opposed to their esophagus," Kennedy says. Others can have difficulty chewing, choke when they eat, or dribble drinks on their chins. Problems with swallowing may occur when you're first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis or as it progresses.
A therapist may be able to show you new ways to swallow. In severe cases, a feeding tube inserted in the stomach may be necessary.
With MS, you may have sensations that feel like "pins and needles" or burning, stabbing, or gripping pains. In addition, some people experience itching. When you have MS, the nerves in your skin or the nerves that send signals to your skin can be damaged. This damage can cause you to feel itchy even though you don't see any irritation. Because the cause is neurological and not physical like a bug bite or rash, topical skin creams won't help.
According to the NMSS, several medications can help this type of itching, including anticonvulsants such as Tegretol (carbamazepine) and Neurontin (gabapentin); antidepressants such as Elavil (amitriptyline); and Atarax (hydroxyzine) an antihistamine. Your doctor can also prescribe anti-itching medications. No one knows for sure how many people get this MS symptom, but it's not very common, Kennedy says.
5. Hearing Problems
Hearing difficulty is an uncommon MS symptom. This problem can range from a ringing in the ears to a sudden loss of hearing. Hearing loss can be the first sign of MS. Still, because this MS symptom is so rare, it's more likely to be from something else. Talk to your doctor or an audiologist if you experience difficulty hearing. Deafness is seldom a result of MS.
Tremors are one of the more distressing MS symptoms. These are different from tremors caused by Parkinson's disease: If you have MS, you may experience a hand tremor when you reach for a glass or pick up a fork, Kennedy says, but those with Parkinson's find their hand or leg may tremble when it's resting. "Sometimes we can hear a tremor in the MS patient's speech because their vocal chords shake," Kennedy adds. Tremors primarily affect the arms.
"We have little to offer for tremors," Kennedy says. Your doctor may be able to prescribe some medication that can help you relax. One way to treat multiple sclerosis tremors is to work with a physical therapist on exercises to increase your muscle strength, control, and balance.
7. Sexual Dysfunction
According to the NMSS, research shows that many people with MS have sex less frequently because of their disease — the damage to the signal system that runs along the nerves of your spinal cord also interrupts the signals your brain sends to your sexual organs. Men may experience erectile dysfunction or delayed ejaculation; for women, sexual issues include vaginal dryness and loss of sensation.
"For people with MS, lack of sex can also be a self-esteem issue," Kennedy says.
Medications are available to help men and women cope with sexual dysfunction. A marital or sex therapist also may be able to help couples.
Though headaches aren't typically thought of as an MS symptom, some studies show that people with MS are more likely to get certain types of headaches than are people without the disease. Researchers at New York University found that women with MS may suffer from tension-type headaches or migraines. Analyzing data on more than 116,000 participants in the long-term Nurses' Health Study II, published in January 2012 in the journalMultiple Sclerosis, they found that of the 402 diagnosed with MS over the course of the study, 84 had been diagnosed with migraines before the study began.
You may find relief with over-the-counter headache medication, but talk to your doctor first to find the best strategy to treat multiple sclerosis and the type of headaches you're experiencing.
Video: Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis – Exercise
A diet that encourages red wine and chocolate Sign us up
Robin Sheas 80 Spinach Burgers Recipe
Marimekko’s Mika Ihamuotila on Spring 2013, How New York is More Open to NewThinking
Cant Sleep This 10-Minute Yoga Routine Will Help You Fall Asleep Fast
Put a Bird on It’ Is Back—but Don’t GroanYet
Coffee May Keep Your Ears From Ringing
How to Handle Anticipatory Grief
The Gall-Peters map is just as distorted as the Mercator
Usertalk: Raven Noir
How to Get Rid of Uterine Fibroid Pain
20 Totally Bizarre Baby Halloween Costumes
Ted Baker x Prince Cassius Brogues
5 Ways to Grow Your 401k
Top foodsdiet for infants, children aged between 1-2 years
This robot is helping to regenerate the Great Barrier Reef