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Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms Overview (Part 1)

multiple sclerosis

What Are the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis symptoms are confusing and mysterious. If you are reading this, you either are having symptoms that you suspect might be multiple sclerosis (MS), or you know that you have MS and are wondering if what you are experiencing is yet another way that MS is surprising you.

MS is a complicated disease. Many of the symptoms, such as fatigue, dizziness, tremor, pain or cognitive problems, are difficult to link to MS before diagnosis, as they are hard to quantify and common to many other diseases. I had all of the symptoms listed above (as well as many more) and saw at least seven or eight doctors for them over a span of 15 years before receiving my diagnosis of MS.

The list below outlines some of the major MS symptoms, but there are more than 50 symptoms linked with MS.

Fortunately, there are medications to modify the MS disease course and management strategies for the symptoms of MS. Remember, in many patients, the symptoms will ‘remit’ (resolve or partially resolve) after some period of time.

Vision Problems

People with MS can experience double vision, eye discomfort and uncontrollable eye movements. Generally, eye pain is present when the eyes are moved. Inflammation of the optic nerve (called optic neuritis) causes blurred vision, color confusion and even blindness in one eye. Fifty-five percent of MS patients will have an attack of optic neuritis. In 15% of people, optic neuritis is the symptom that results in an MS diagnosis.

Dizziness and Vertigo

Dizziness describes the feeling of being lightheaded or feeling faint. Vertigo is the sensation of the person’s surroundings spinning or the ground rushing towards them. In some cases, this can even cause the feeling of nausea, as if the person had motion sickness.

Muscle-Related Symptoms

These include weakness, problems with coordination and loss of balance. The muscle-related symptoms most often occur in the arms and legs. At times, these symptoms may impair walking. Spasticity, which is the involuntary tightening of a muscle, can manifest as stiffness, pain or spasms. Some may experience difficulty in making small or complex movements and may notice their hands shake when trying to pick something up, write or button their shirt. This is called ‘intention tremor.’


Some people with MS experience pain, often in the arms and legs. Another common symptom can be a tight, painful band around the stomach or torso, which is often referred to as a ‘girdle sensation’ or ‘MS hug.’ Facial pain can also occur. Additionally, people with MS can experience muscle pain from trying to compensate for in coordination or weakness.


This common MS symptom may be triggered by heat (from weather or exertion), physical activity or be a more constant lack of energy. MS-related fatigue is tiredness that often does not respond to adequate sleep and rest and may last all day.

Sensory Symptoms

mri with multiple sclerosis

Parasthesias, or abnormal feelings, can occur in MS. These usually take the form of numbness or tingling, usually in the arms and legs. Some people also experience a loss of sensation or an inability to feel temperature (for example, hot things may feel cold).

Click here to go to Part Two for more about MS symptoms, including: heat sensitivity, depression and other mental health symptoms, speech-related problems and cognitive dysfunction symptoms.

By Julie Stachowiak, Ph.D., About.com

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