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5 Signs You're Getting Multiple Sclerosis, By an Expert

Watch out for these presenting symptoms and contact your primary healthcare provider if you have them. 
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab
Uncomfortable young woman scratching her arm while sitting on the sofa at home.

Laverne & Shirley actor David Lander died recently at age 73, after decades of fighting multiple sclerosis, after decades of fighting multiple sclerosis, a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord. "My doctor painted a fairly bleak picture of the disease, even going so far as to tell me I probably wouldn't walk again," Lander, who played "Squiggy," once said during an interview in Brain & Life Magazine. "Whatever happens, MS can't take it all. I will always have my heart and soul, my wit and wisdom. Wherever the chips may fall, if I fall with them I will make it a point to do so gracefully—and laughing." 

As a registered nurse and Director of Multiple Sclerosis Information for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, I wanted to share a few common presenting symptoms of multiple sclerosis. If you are experiencing these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean you have MS. A qualified healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms, do a thorough exam and run tests to rule out other possible causes. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your primary healthcare provider for next steps. If you don't have a primary care provider, go to an urgent clinic or emergency room. Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.

1

Vision Problems

Blurred and double vision while driving
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Optic neuritis— inflammation of the optic (vision) nerve—usually occurs in one eye and may cause aching pain with eye movement, blurred vision, dim vision, or loss of color vision. You may lose vision completely in the affected eye or have a blurred or dim spot (scotoma) in the center of your field of vision. Optic neuritis can be frightening but, in most cases, vision returns. 

2

Tingling/Numbness

Pain in the foot of the elderly
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Or a loss or decreased sensation—of the face, body or extremities. You may notice that you have less feeling when touching something with your hand or notice the sensation in one leg is different than the other. You may feel the sensation of your arm or leg being "asleep" with a pins and needles (tingling) sensation. The numbness may be mild or so severe that it interferes with your ability to function. For example, if you have very numb feet you may have difficulty walking. Numb hands may make texting, dressing, or even holding objects challenging.

3

Trouble Walking

Man tired after excercise.
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…can be caused by poor balance, decreased or lost sensation, tight muscles, weakness and fatigue. Problems with walking can be dangerous and lead to falls. Even if the problems are subtle, it's best to get checked right away to prevent injuries from falls and promote recovery.  

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4

Fatigue

Woman experiencing a bad headache
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One of the most common symptoms of MS, but also common in other health conditions and everyday life. MS fatigue is more severe and different from other types of fatigue in that it occurs on a daily basis, can occur early in the morning (even with a good night of rest), worsens as the day progresses, is aggravated by heat and humidity and interferes with daily responsibilities.   

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5

Cognitive Issues

Mature man with bad headache at home
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Changes in thinking are common in MS and can be a first symptom. These changes could be to how well you process or take in new information, your memory, your ability to concentrate and pay attention, your planning and prioritizing and your ability to easily find the words you're looking for. For most, the changes are mild and can be hard to detect yourself. Pay attention to loved ones who might be trying to tell you that they notice a change in your thinking. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Julie Fiol, MSW, BSN, RN, MSCN
Julie Fiol is an RN and Director of MS Information for the National MS Society. Read more
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