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MS Symptoms

MS symptoms are variable and unpredictable, they can change or fluctuate over time. The more common symptoms are discussed here with links to further reading, though not everyone will experience all of these symptoms. Many symptoms of MS can be treated or managed, usually by a local MS specialist team.

MS Research is constantly looking for new and better ways to treat symptoms that are harder to manage. It is also important to note that not all new changes will be a result of MS and should be addressed by other specialists.


The most common symptom of MS and occurring in about 90% of people with MS. MS related fatigue can be more severe than the tiredness that most people experience. An invisible condition, fatigue, can significantly interfere with a person’s day to day life.

Walking/Gait Issues

Related to several factors including leg weakness, spasticity, ataxia and muscle fatigue. This can lead to impaired balance, falls and limited endurance. These problems can be helped by physical therapy, assistive therapy and medication.

Numbness, tingling and other odd sensations

Numbness of the face, body, or extremities (arms and legs) can be a first symptom experienced by those eventually diagnosed as having MS. Numbness and tingling indicate damage to pathways carrying information to the brain. Some people experience an occasional feeling often described as an 'electric shock' along the spine. Itching is part of the family of abnormal sensations such as 'pins and needles', burning and stabbing which may be experienced by people with MS.


Refers to feelings of stiffness with occasional involuntary spasms that can occur in any limb, but more commonly in the legs. There are several treatments for spasticity depending on how the muscles are affected. A neurological specialist physiotherapist can help with exercises to improve spasticity.


Weakness of the muscles in MS may result from damaged nerve pathways or from the deconditioning in under used muscles. This can be managed with rehabilitation strategies and the use of mobility aids and other assistive devices.

Vision Problems

Visual problems can be an early sign of MS usually described as blurred or patchy vision. Other symptoms may include pain on eye movement, poor contrast or affected colour vision. Any visual issues should be assessed promptly.

Dizziness and Vertigo

People with MS may feel off balance or lightheaded, or, much less often, have the sensation that they or their surroundings are spinning.

Bladder Dysfunction

Many people with MS experience bladder dysfunction. This can either be feeling the need to urinate frequently or urgency needing to get to the toilet. These symptoms can usually be managed quite successfully with medication, bladder training and attention to fluid intake. A different bladder problem may be finding it difficult to pass urine with interrupted urine flow. This should be reported to your doctor.

Bowel Problems

Constipation is a particular concern among people with MS, especially if they are taking other drugs to treat their MS. Bowel issues can typically be managed through diet, adequate fluid intake, physical activity and appropriate medication.

Sexual Problems

Surprisingly common in the general population, sexual problems can occur for people with MS. Sexual interactions can be affected by a variety of symptoms such as spasticity, fatigue and psychological factors. More attention is now being paid to understanding personal relationships in MS.


Pain in MS can occur as a result of nerve damage. It is generally treated with a family of drugs commonly used for this kind of pain.

Cognitive Issues

Some people experience mild cognitive issues in MS, such as memory problems. This can affect relationships with family and carers who may find behaviours confusing.

Emotional Changes

The stress of living with MS, especially in the early phase of relapse remitting MS can give rise to depression, mood swings and irritability. Unusual symptoms include uncontrollable laughing or crying, posing significant challenges.


Depression is more common among people with MS than it is in the general population, but it can generally be helped by learning coping strategies.

Speech and Swallowing Problems

Speech problems, including slurring (dysarthria) and loss of volume (dysphonia) can occur in people with MS, this problem can be exacerbated during periods of extreme fatigue. Swallowing problems (dysphagia) result from damage to the nerves controlling the many small muscles in the mouth and throat. This can be addressed by advice from a dietician on food preparation.


Tremor, or uncontrollable shaking, can occur in various parts of the body because of damaged areas along the complex nerve pathways that are responsible for the coordination of movements.


Seizures are the result of abnormal electrical discharges in injured or scarred areas of the brain. They occur in only 2-5% of people living with MS compared to the estimated 3% of the general population.

Breathing Problems

Breathing problems are unusual in early MS but can occur as a result of some medications. More generally people may find that existing respiration problems can improve through some of the new MS drugs.

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