8 Early Signs of Multiple Sclerosis

A potentially disabling disease of the central nervous system which causes the immune system of the body to attack its own protective cells, especially the nerve cells, is known as multiple sclerosis. It is a progressive autoimmune disorder that hampers the communication between your brain and body by the permanent deterioration of the nerve cells. The signs and symptoms of the disease depend on the extent of the nerve damage. In case of severe damage, the person can even lose the ability to move independently.

This article highlights the early signs and symptoms of the disease so you can recognize the likelihood of the disease in time and get timely diagnosis and treatment to avoid any permanent damage. So, let’s begin.  

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis is an immune-mediated disorder when the immune system of individual attacks and damages its healthy cells leading to the loss of their function. During MS, the immune system targets your nerve cells and damages their myelin sheath causing a diminished working of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).

Myelin sheath is a protective fatty substance that covers the nerve fibers and protects them against external damages. During the disease, the immune system malfunctions and destroys this protective covering, and exposes the nerve fibers. This causes a potential slow down or blockage along with the conduction of nerve impulses resulting in poor coordination and control. Inflammation and lesions are prominent during the disease which makes it hard for the brain to signal and direct your body. According to various medical studies, environmental factors in combination with genetics serve as potential causes of the disease.

Also, the disease comes with a wide range of unpredictable symptoms. Some people experience fatigue and numbness whereas some, with a severe condition, observe reduced brain function, loss of vision, and paralysis. One of the most observed symptoms of the disease is difficulty in walking. It occurs due to numbness of feet and legs, compromised balance, weakening of muscles, and reduced vision. Other symptoms may include tremors, acute or chronic pain, poor memory, and concentration. The disease sometimes causes speech disorders as well.  

How is Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of multiple sclerosis is of a differential kind. There is no specific test for it and the diagnosis is made by ruling out other conditions producing similar symptoms. The doctor may start with a thorough examination of the medical history and then carry out blood tests, MRI, visual evoked potential tests, lumbar puncture, optical coherence tomography (OCT), etc.

First of all, blood tests check for specific biomarkers linked with MS. Secondly, MRI reveals the presence of lesions and inflamed areas indicating the disease. Next, the spinal tap or lumbar puncture includes the removal of a small amount of CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) for detection of any abnormal antibodies in the laboratory. Furthermore, visual evoked potential tests record the production of electrical signals from the brain and finally, OCT involves picturing the optic nerve to detect any damage.  

What is the life expectancy for someone with Multiple Sclerosis?

Since the progress of the disease in any person is unpredictable so it is a little difficult to determine the life expectancy for someone with multiple sclerosis. However, generally, the life expectancy for people with MS is observed to be 7.5 years less than the expected lifespan. Also, many studies suggest that this life expectancy is gradually increasing due to advancement in medical health care practices.

For instance, almost 10-15% of the people with MS experience rare attacks and negligible disability after 10 years of diagnosis even if they are not acquiring any treatment. This situation is said to be benign multiple sclerosis. Ever since the disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) are developing, scientists are hopeful that the progression of the disease can be slowed and life-expectancy is likely to increase.

The life expectancy of an individual with MS depends on various factors as the type of MS, age, sex, and the extent of nerve damage. Many people with MS don’t exhibit any physical disability and continue living healthily for years. However, some with severe damage observe disabilities hampering the quality and span of their lives.

What are the early signs of Multiple Sclerosis?

There are many early warning signs of Multiple Sclerosis to look out for.  Photo by Marvin Esteve on Unsplash
There are many early warning signs of Multiple Sclerosis to look out for. Photo by Marvin Esteve on Unsplash

Here we’ll discuss the early signs of multiple sclerosis which commonly include symptoms such as problems with the vision, tingling, and numbness of the legs and feet, muscle/nerve pain, spasms, excessive fatigue, problems with body balance, dizziness, bladder issues, sexual dysfunction, cognitive problems, etc. Let’s look at each in detail.

Vision problems

Problems with vision are one of the most common and earliest symptoms of MS. The disease causes inflammation which affects the optic nerve and upsets the central vision. It can potentially result in blurred, double, or loss of vision. You might not be able to notice the problem immediately as vision degeneration is generally very slow.  

Numbness and tingling sensations

Multiple sclerosis targets the message center of the body called the brain and spinal cord. It causes the brain to send conflicting or no signals around the body which causes tingling sensations and numbness respectively. These sensations serve as one of the earliest warning signs of MS and mostly occur in arms, legs, feet, and fingers.

Muscle pain and spasms 

Chronic muscle pain and involuntary spasms are commonly observed during the early phases of MS. The muscles or joints become stiff and move uncontrollably and painfully. Pain in the legs and back is very common.

Weakness and fatigue

Almost 80% of the people with MS report severe pain and fatigue during the early stages of the disease. Fatigue is the outcome of nerve deterioration in the spine and lasts for many days and weeks. The person starts feeling significant weakness in the lower limbs first.

Problems with balance

Multiple sclerosis causes major problems with corporal coordination and thus disturbs the body’s balance and mobility. You’ll experience light-headedness, dizziness, or vertigo. These symptoms appear when you stand up and move. You’ll feel like everything around you is spinning or going round and round.

Dysfunctioning of the bladder

80% of the people with multiple sclerosis report a dysfunctional bladder. They experience frequent urination and their bladder is unable to hold urine. In some rare cases, people experience abnormal bowel movements and report lost bowel control, diarrhea, and constipation.

Cognitive issues

Since the disease involves damage to the nerve cells, cognitive issues are very likely to arise during MS. The brain cannot send messages properly and the conduction of nerve impulses is compromised as well. This often results in poor focus and concentration. The patient develops memory problems and language issues. Moreover, they have reduced attention span and experience mental unrest and disorganization.

Emotional health changes

People with MS report major changes in their mental and emotional health. They experience stress, anxiety, and depression due to their physical condition. They exhibit abrupt mood swings involving bouts of intense laughing and crying.

If somebody experiences the majority of these signs and symptoms, he/she should get themselves checked for the disease before any prominent damage appears.

What can you do if you or a loved one shows early signs of Multiple Sclerosis?

If you or any of your loved ones has multiple sclerosis, remember it isn’t the end of your life. The disease might not be treatable completely but can be managed effectively. First of all, you need to recognize the sign and symptoms of your disease and see a doctor at your earliest. Adequate medical help is essential to keep severe damages at bay. Next, make adjustments to your or your loved one’s lifestyle. Take on more everyday tasks, arrange your household chores and help your loved one with basic care like feeding, dressing, bathing, etc.

Most importantly, promote a healthy lifestyle and encourage your loved one to do so as well. Eat healthy food that boosts your brain health. Make a proper exercise schedule. Go for a walk every day, meditate, and practice yoga. See a doctor regularly. Don’t take any medicine to relieve your pain without consulting your doctor. Try to keep your mental health as stable as possible. Seek emotional support from your friends and family and try to stay happy as much as possible.    

Is Multiple Sclerosis Hereditary?

What if someone in your family shows signs of Multiple Sclerosis?  Photo by Andrae Ricketts on Unsplash
What if someone in your family shows signs of Multiple Sclerosis? Photo by Andrae Ricketts on Unsplash

The national society for multiple sclerosis says that the disease isn’t necessarily hereditary. However, if somebody has a closed relative suffering from the disease, he/she has greater chances of developing the disease as compared to others. For instance, a person with no one in the family with MS has a 0.1 percent chance of acquiring the disease. However, the chances increase to up to 5% if you have got the disease history in your family. Thus, MS can’t be certified as a hereditary disease but it has close links with genetics.

Conclusion

Multiple sclerosis is an auto-immune disorder that progresses over time and hampers the corporal functioning of the patient. Delayed diagnosis of the disease can result in permanent damage to the corporal coordination. Therefore, an individual must know the early signs of the disease so that they can recognize it in time and get relevant medical assistance.