9 Ways MS Can Impact Your Body
- An Attack on the Nerve SignalsMultiple sclerosis (MS) is a lifelong disease that causes your body's immune system to attack the myelin (a fatty substance) that surrounds and protects your nerves. As the damaged myelin sheaths become scarred, nerve signals from your brain and spinal cord can be distorted or interrupted. MS symptoms depend on where in the nervous system attacks occur. The condition can affect your brain, spinal cord, and eyes (optic nerves). The good news is that with the treatments available today, most people with MS do not become severely disabled and have a normal life expectancy.
- FatigueFatigue is the most common complaint of people with MS, and it affects about 80% of patients. Fatigue from MS is usually worse at the end of the day and better in the early evening. MS fatigue is more than simply being tired. You can have it even after a good night's sleep. It can be hard to explain this symptom to friends and family members, and it can be severe enough to interfere with your ability to function at work and at home. Treatment for MS fatigue includes being careful not to become overheated, avoiding stress, and taking medications that boost your energy.
- NumbnessNumbness or tingling is a common early symptom of MS and one that usually comes and goes. Over half of people with MS experience it. It can be triggered by stress, illness or heat. Symptoms may feel like a burning or crawling sensation, and you may feel it on your face, trunk, or arms and legs. Walking can be difficult if you have this feeling in your feet. If you have it in your hands, you may have a hard time doing simple tasks like eating and getting dressed. Episodes of numbness usually go away without treatment.
- Walking ProblemsMS symptoms like numbness, weakness, problems with balance and coordination, and fatigue can make it difficult to walk. This is called gait disturbance, and it may come and go during a flare-up of symptoms, or it may be more permanent if you have an advanced form of MS. Treatment may include physical therapy or an assistive device like a cane or walker. A new medication called Ampyra has been shown to improve walking speed by 25%.
- Bladder DysfunctionAbout 80% of people with MS will experience some problems with urination at some point, including dribbling, frequency, urgency, and difficulty starting to urinate. Bladder dysfunction occurs when MS attacks the nerves that control the bladder. It can lead to a condition called spastic bladder, which means the bladder can't fully empty or can't hold a lot of urine. Treatment includes medication and limiting how much fluid you drink at one time – especially right before bedtime.
- Visual ProblemsA visual problem called optic neuritis is another common MS symptom. This inflammation of the optic nerve may cause blurred vision, and eye pain or loss of vision, usually in one eye. (Total blindness is rare.) Treatment may require medication. Other visual problems related to MS may include difficulty focusing, abnormal eye movements, and double vision. These problems may also be due to eyestrain and, if that is the cause, symptoms usually go away after giving your eyes a rest.
- Muscle SpasmsMuscle spasms, called spasticity, are very common in people who have MS. You may feel anything from a sensation of tightness to painful muscle contractions. Spasticity can be triggered by cold temperatures, high humidity, or wearing tight clothing. Spasms can occur in the shoulders, neck, back or any extremity, but are most common in the big muscles of the upper legs. Stretching exercises and muscle relaxants may bring relief.
- PainAbout half of all people will have MS-related pain at some point, and women are twice as likely as men to experience it. Trigeminal neuralgia is the name for a stabbing and severe pain felt on one side of the face that people with MS sometimes have. Lhermitte's sign is a sharp, shock-like pain that runs from the back of the head down the spine. It's triggered when you bend your neck forward. Another type of pain is a burning, aching hug around the body. These pain syndromes often go away after treatment with anticonvulsant or antidepressant medications.
- Brain FogProblems like short-term memory loss, inability to concentrate, and disorganization are part of an MS symptom called cognitive dysfunction. About half of all people with MS have this symptom at times. MS cognitive dysfunction does not decrease your intelligence, but it can make you feel like your brain is working in slow motion. This symptom is probably due to changes in the brain, and it may respond to disease-modifying medications that many people with MS take to slow the progression of the disease.
- DepressionPeople with MS are more prone to experience clinical depression than people without MS. Depression from MS may be due to changes in the brain or to side effects from some medications used to treat MS. Depression is marked by feelings of sadness or hopelessness that last longer than two weeks. Tell your doctor if you have these symptoms. With treatment, often a combination of talk therapy and medication, you can beat depression.
9 Ways MS Can Impact Your Body