Over 2 million people live with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) around the world according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Because there are different types of MS as well as various stages of progression, symptoms can vary widely from patient to patient and sometimes be tough to pinpoint.
What is MS?
Before you tackle how MS presents itself, it’s important to grasp what exactly Multiple Sclerosis is and how it is caused. MS is considered an autoimmune condition of the central nervous system which specifically affects how signals are sent from the brain through the body. If the spinal cord was like a cable, the myelin sheath around it would be considered the coating which helps keep all the electrical signals traveling the cable contained and on track.
In people with MS, the body attacks that myelin sheath membrane that wraps around nerve fibers, damaging it and even breaking it down to where messages traveling from the brain to the body get lost and never reach their final destination. Over time, nerves themselves deteriorate which also contributes to many MS symptoms. These include fatigue, vision impairment, and wide-sweeping mobility issues like coordination problems and trouble walking. MS sufferers who use a mobility aid like a wheelchair, walker, or knee scooter may benefit from helpful accessories for carrying and transporting items, click for more info.
What are other lesser known symptoms of MS?
The less common symptoms of MS might surprise you:
Longtime MS advocate, Montel Williams famously describes painful feelings of burning in his feet and legs as a symptom of his disease, and it’s not unique to him. Nerve damage from the progression of MS can lead to feelings of searing pins and needles, burning, and even itchiness of the skin.
Different than a resting tremor someone with Parkinson’s might experience when not moving, MS tremors present in two unique ways as intention and postural tremors. Intention tremors may present themselves when someone with MS initiates a movement like reaching for a glass of water or picking up the remote. Postural tremors occur in the arms or leg, for example, are when a person with MS is sitting or standing (not when lying down).
Trouble or uncomfortability with swallowing, also known as dysphagia, may accompany early to late stages of MS. Sometimes the message will not be received from the brain for the brain to properly swallow, and other times, weakened muscles in the mouth and throat will make eating and swallowing more time-consuming and difficult.
The dangers of dysphagia include not being able to properly swallow food and liquids down the esophagus. Occasionally, small amounts of food and liquid might go down the wrong pipe into the lungs (aspiration) leading to complications like pneumonia infections.
While researchers can’t directly link migraines to MS, they have found a correlation between incidence rates of migraines and developing the disease. A 2012 study found that prevalence of migraines in female nurses with MS was higher than those who were not diagnosed with MS, and risk of developing MS was slightly higher in women who experienced regular migraines than those who didn’t. Migraines are high-intensity headaches that can be debilitating and accompanied by symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and light-sensitivity.
Other lesser-known symptoms include trouble speaking and articulating words, involuntary muscle spasms, dizziness, numbness, loss of balance, incontinence, and jumpy eye movements.
MS can be truly painstaking and time-consuming to diagnose. Because symptoms can vary so greatly and because they can flare-up and disappear with different types of MS, a clinical diagnosis through physical examination typically requires more testing through spinal taps, electrical signal tests, imaging scans, and blood tests. If you are concerned about similar symptoms you are experiencing, set up some time to talk with your doctor about ruling out MS or other potential conditions.