Multiple sclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the central nervous system. It affects millions of Americans every year.
The disease blocks the communication between the brain and the immune system that protects your body and its many vital functions. Thus, the immune system begins to attack itself mistakenly. Therefore, some medical professionals classify it as an autoimmune syndrome.
The lack of agreement on whether the condition is inflammatory or autoimmune highlights the lack of clarity. While researchers know much about multiple sclerosis, they still can’t pinpoint the exact cause.
Here’s what we know. The disease endangers your nervous system, your organs, and your health. This particular disorder targets the protective coating of nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain, reducing their function and rendering them useless.
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis can vary in their progress and severity; while some only experience fatigue and numbness in the limbs, others experience vision loss, coordination problems, and paralysis.
How does multiple sclerosis develop?
While no specific cause has yet been identified, multiple sclerosis is thought to be caused by certain viruses, environmental factors, stress, or a combination of all three, as it causes the immune system to lock in on itself, attacking the delicate nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
While there is no cure for multiple sclerosis yet, learning to live with the disease includes a plan that includes diet, exercise, and treatment for deteriorating nerves to ensure a better quality of life.
Here are 18 early signs of multiple sclerosis
It is critical to develop an awareness of the signs and symptoms of multiple sclerosis and identify them for proactive treatment that can reduce its severity and slow its progression.
Many women, in particular, miss the early onset of symptoms because they are raising families, balancing work and home responsibilities, and cannot secure the type of self-care needed to identify and treat the disease. Look out for these 18 early warning signs of multiple sclerosis that may help you on your path to better health:
1. Changes or loss of vision
Vision problems are one of the earliest symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Inflammation in the brain affects the optic nerve that runs along the back of each eye; vision deteriorates when this nerve does not function properly.
You may experience blurry vision, double vision, or tunnel vision, as well as pain when you move your eyes. While vision loss can be a gradual progression, it should never be taken lightly.
2. Numbness and tingling
The message center of the body is the brain and spinal cord; Multiple sclerosis affects these two nerve centers, making communication between the brain and limbs difficult. When signals do not reach parts of the body, numbness and tingling can result.
You may experience intermittent tingling and loss of sensation in your face, feet, hands, toes, and fingers, gradually spreading to your arms, legs, and other more significant parts of your body.
3. Pain and spasms
Involuntary muscle spasms and pain indicate possible multiple sclerosis; most people with multiple sclerosis report daily pain in one or more body parts. As the disease progresses, joint and muscle stiffness and involuntary spasms become part of everyday life.
4. Fatigue and weakness
More than 80 percent of people note that multiple sclerosis begins with chronic lethargy. This symptom occurs because the nerves along the spine wear down, causing bone and muscle weakness.
5. Dizziness and balance problems
Problems with coordination and balance can make mobility a problem for people with undiagnosed multiple sclerosis.
People can often feel lightheaded, dizzy, and have periods of dizziness where they feel like everything is spinning around them. Occurring most often when someone gets up, this symptom first comes and goes and then becomes part of everyday experience.
6. Bladder and bowel dysfunction
Nearly 80 percent of MS patients report some form of bladder and bowel dysfunction. Problems may include frequent urination, a strong urge to urinate, or even an inability to hold urine. Less commonly, people may experience issues with bowel control, including constipation, diarrhea, and loss of control.
7. Sexual Complications
Stimulation of the nervous system affects the sexual response in both men and women. As multiple sclerosis progresses, loss of sensation and nerve function becomes apparent as sex drive declines, sexual responses dim, and complications occur. This lack of sexual response can be incredibly stressful in men, as it causes erectile dysfunction.
8. Cognitive problems
Unfortunately, the brain depends on the onset of multiple sclerosis and its symptoms. Signs that cognitive decline is taking place include:
- Memory loss
- Shorter attention span
- Problems with language and comprehension
- Difficulty staying organized
Because of this mental degeneration, multiple sclerosis can also affect emotional health.
9. Emotional instability
Developing depression is becoming a common occurrence for those who have multiple sclerosis. The stress of the condition can also cause irritability, anger, mood swings, anxiety, and sadness.
In some people, this emotional instability manifests as a condition called the pseudobulbar affect – bouts of alternating crying and laughing that the patient cannot predict or control.
10. Hearing loss
In some people, damage to the neural pathways in the brain responsible for auditory stimuli can cause tinnitus and, eventually, hearing loss. Some patients experience sudden and dramatic hearing loss that occurs almost instantly; in any case, losing one of our most treasured feelings is traumatic.
Seizures can be one of the first noticeable signs of multiple sclerosis before a doctor makes a diagnosis. Even if epilepsy is not a known disease, about 5 percent of people with considerable sclerosis experience seizure activity as the brain begins to cut off connections to nerve pathways that affect other areas of the body.
Tremors are involuntary muscle twitches that cause rhythmic reciprocating movements of body parts. The arms and legs are most commonly affected, but the tremor is likely to spread to the legs, head, vocal cords, and trunk. They may be mild or worsen over time.
13. Difficulty breathing
The autonomic nervous system controls breathing; most don’t need to consider living regulations when doing our daily activities. As multiple sclerosis progresses, the ability of the autonomic nervous system to perform its automatic functions is disrupted. As a result, a person may develop breathing problems that interfere with daily activities.
14. Slurred speech
As the brain and neural connections are disrupted, messages meant to be translated into addresses get mixed up, making clear communication difficult.
Loss of control over the muscles of the cheeks, mouth, and tongue can make it challenging to form both vowels and consonants over time. Even the most articulate people can become increasingly frustrated when expressing themselves through speech.
15. Trouble swallowing
In a person with multiple sclerosis, lesions can develop throughout the body, and it can be difficult to swallow these open sores, making eating and drinking almost impossible.
This loss of control of the muscles around the mouth and esophagus increases the risk of choking when a person tries to eat and drink; when eating, extreme care must be taken to ensure the safe consumption of liquids and solid foods.
16. Increased menstrual problems
Many women report increased symptoms of multiple sclerosis during menstruation. Health professionals attribute these symptoms to a drop in estrogen levels, which aggravates the symptoms. Exaggerated symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, imbalance, and muscle weakness.
17. Complications of pregnancy
Although the symptoms of multiple sclerosis do not affect pregnancy and fertility, the symptoms tend to return after childbirth. Some common complaints of pregnant women can be passed off as everyday problems such as pain, fatigue, and mood swings.
They can also be signs of a multiple sclerosis diagnosis; reviewing your symptoms and noting their frequency, duration, and severity will help you navigate your treatment if you have MS.
18. Worsening of menopausal symptoms
For some women, the symptoms of multiple sclerosis worsen significantly at the onset of menopause. This may be partly due to a drop in estrogen levels, which the body no longer produces. Hormone replacement therapy can relieve menopausal symptoms.
However, you can put the patch on other things that may be happening. Hormone replacement therapy has been linked to heart disease, breast cancer, and stroke, so it may not be the best choice for treating seemingly minor pain that can quickly escalate into serious health problems.
Final Thoughts on Getting a Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis
Multiple sclerosis is a complex disease that can be life-changing. However, you can take steps to avoid the rapid progression of symptoms.
Your best defense against multiple sclerosis is to see a doctor immediately if you start experiencing any of the above signs and symptoms that could indicate its existence.
Do not be shy; correct diagnosis and timely treatment will be critical to how you can protect your health and well-being.